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

 

 

 

 

Holiday Stuff and Such

IMG_20130925_081517

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.

I Suck at Cakes

Vanessa, from Suburban Mama Goddess, posted before Christmas that she baked an ugly cake. I felt her pain.

I was ten the first time I made a cake all by myself. It was from a box, but I still took it very seriously. While it was in the oven, I didn’t go outside and play with my brothers. I sat on a chair in the service porch and read my book.

When it was done, I took it out and turned it upside down on a rack to cool. There was a nice breeze coming through the back door, so I set the cake on the chair to cool faster.

Then I set the timer for 30 minutes, grabbed my book and sat down on the chair to read.

Girlfriend, yes I did sit on my cake.

Ten years later, I was home for winter break from college, and my mom asked me to bake a cake for my grandfather’s birthday. I got all fancy and tried to make two layers. I had no Food Network to tell me to even the layers before I tried to frost them. It was crazy lopsided. I honestly thought that a good thick buttercream frosting would make it look even. But I used margarine, and the frosting broke and slid all over the top of the cake. Then I left it in a spot on the counter that takes afternoon sun, so when I came back, the frosting had melted down the cake, over the plate and onto the counter.

In desperation, I dug through the baking cupboard and in the way back found a shelf-stable tube of green frosting that had only expired the month before. I tried making green roses on the pink cake.

When my grandfather saw it, he wanted to know who let the green owl in the house.

20150222_171155

A few years later, I decided to make an egg nog cheesecake for Christmas dinner. I will admit to not being 100% sober when I made it, so I was pleasantly surprised when it came out of the oven with nary a crack. I stenciled some stars on the top with grated nutmeg and carried it off to my parent’s home.

After dinner, I carried my cheesecake proudly to the table. I cut my brother a slice and passed it down. He took a bite and chewed. Then he started laughing.

Which of course made my other brother dive for the cheesecake with a folk and scoop a big bite into his mouth.

Then they both were laughing. By the time my dad took a bite, my first brother had spit it out: “It tastes like playdough!”

In fact, it did. I was mortified. “What happened?!” I wailed. My aunt asked me about the recipe. I didn’t remember it exactly, because Coors Light, but when I got to “three cups of flour” she stopped me. “Three cups???” she asked. “Are you sure?”

When I got home, I double-checked. Turns out, Coors Light and I misread 3 tablespoons as 3 cups and never looked back.

Every now and then I try again. For Father’s Day a few years back, I tried to make a scratch lemon cake in a sunflower cake mold for Shea. When I turned it over to pop it out, only the petals came. The center of the flower stayed in the pan. You better believe I cobbled that thing together, frosted it and served it up, gaping hole in the middle and all.

And for this past Valentine’s Day, I decided to bake a Paula Deen coconut lime cake for the family.

It was a three layer cake, but I only have two cake pans, and had to pick the kids up from school. So I tried to remove one of the cakes way too early to bake the third one, and this happened:

IMAG2497

Shea came home and saved it, thank goodness. It tasted amazing:

IMAG2502

I can bake a cookie that will make your heart melt. I perfected that egg nog cheesecake, and cheesecakes in general—you should try my key lime cheesecake. Pumpkin pie. Pecan pie. Gingerbread. Nutmeg sugar cookies. Last Christmas I made a chocolate cinnamon loaf with a whole dang pear in the middle:

IMG_20131215_195834

But I suck at cakes.

Well. Somebody has to.

Christmas Cobbler

Can we start with this: On Christmas Eve, it snowed on our hill. Look at my babies. They have no idea what to do.

IMG_20141224_134042 IMG_20141224_133919

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a dessert hack.

Our new home town is also home to Harry and David, gourmet grocers, famous for their Moose Munch and gift baskets. Their flagship store also has fresh groceries. Last week they had cherries for $2/lb. So I bought a bunch, thinking I would make some jam.

Then the kids started eating them.

A few days ago I put them away in an effort to save enough to make a cherry cobbler for Christmas dinner. I need to work on my hiding places, because yesterday morning there were twenty sad cherries in the bottom of the bowl.

What I did have in abundance was cranberries and tangerines. So I made up a citrus cranberry cherry cobbler, using the cobbler topping from my trusty BHG New Cookbook (the 1989 version, thank you very much). Super easy and delicious!

Ingredients:

Filling:

1 bag fresh cranberries

½ cup water

½ cup fresh squeezed tangerine juice (orange would work, too)

¾ cup sugar

Whatever cherries (or any other berries, fresh or frozen) you got, sister! Pit them, of course.

Topping:

1 cup flour

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Pop the cranberries, sugar, water and juice into a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until cranberries pop and break down into sauce, stirring occasionally, about ten minutes. Add cherries, and cook for a few more minutes, until the cherries begin to soften.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Cut in the butter fork or pastry knife. Whisk milk and egg separately, then add to mixture, stirring just to combine

Pour hot fruit mix into an 8x8x2 baking dish. Crumble topping over mixture. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until crumble browns.

IMG_20141225_174516

I would normally serve this with homemade whopped cream, but since my Kitchenaid DIED on December 23 and the nearest service center is Portland–no, I can’t talk about it, hurts too much.

Ice cream would work too.

Dana and I hope you enjoy this Christmas season. We’ll see you again on Epiphany. In the meantime, happy New Year to you and yours. Be warm, be safe, be happy!

 

DIY Chicken Broth

I have noticed that more home cooking calls for more chicken broth.

Soups, stews, rice, quinoa, roast—I end up using a ton of it, pretty much all year round. And the only way it comes organic at our store is in a 32 oz container. I never use it all at one meal unless it’s the holidays so I end up tossing whatever is left after a week.

More than once I wondered why they don’t sell it in one cup pouches. And then a few months ago, as I cleaned up a carcass after a roast chicken dinner, I wondered something better: “How hard is it to make my own broth?”

At first I wanted to make Rebecca Katz’s “Magic Mineral Broth” from Cancer Fighting Kitchen, but it has chicken, carrots, leaks, onions, celery, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, garlic, parsley, kombu, peppercorns, allspice and bay.

Yeah, I don’t know what kombu is either.

So I reached for my other cookbook bible, the BHG New Cook Book, circa 1990.

First make this, or buy a roasted chicken at the store.

Keep the carcass in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

Then into a large pot throw:

1 chicken carcass (I leave bits of meat hanging all over mine)

3 celery stalks, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon sage

½ teaspoon pepper

2 bay leaves

6 cups cold water.

Bring it to a boil and simmer for two hours.

Then I strained it and measured it out into one cup portions to freeze. It’s much less salty than the store bought version so the real flavors come through and it’s wonderful to cook with. I use it instead of water for my quinoa and rice, which gives both enough flavor that my kids are not missing those pre-seasoned salt bomb boxed rices.

Our roasted chicken recipe calls for stuffing the chicken with citrus. The first time I made this broth, I took the lemons out of the carcass before starting the broth. An hour later, I was shocked to find a lemon floating in my broth.

“Who put lemon in my broth?” I asked my husband and son, both of whom have official cooking rights in my kitchen. Blank faces. An hour later, Kate came in and asked “Mom, what’s broth?” Turns out she was the lemon bandit. She thought I was making soup and she was pretty sure—from all her cooking show experience—that it needed some acid.

Thanks, Cutthroat Kitchen.

And she was right. So in this picture, you can see I left the lemon and grapefruit in the carcass.

Tasty!

IMG_20140723_123747

Ice-y Creamy Ice Cream

The first time I made ice cream from scratch was thirty years ago. It was with one of those old fashioned salt crank makers and when I tasted the fruit of our (what felt like five hours) labor, I had one thought: Not worth it.

Then five years ago I was flipping through a Williams Sonoma catalog when it came to my attention that ice cream makers had moved into the 21st century. There on the page was the most darling Cuisinart blue ice cream maker. It arrived in time for Mother’s Day and I’ve been making my own ice cream ever since.

Yeah, right.

First, we try not to keep dessert in the house. Ever. Because I’ll eat it.

Secondly, we’re more of a baked goods kind of family.

Thirdly, it’s not in mine or Shea’s family of origin to have cake AND ice cream. It was always one or the other.

But I do tend to make ice cream in June and July, as an alternative way to scratch my baking itch when it’s too hot to turn on the oven. I use the basic recipe, no custard making required, and in 20 minutes I can serve up homemade, creamy, safe (if not healthy, lol) and organic dessert.

All it takes is milk (I use fat free), heavy whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. My ice cream maker has a center cylinder insert that I store in the freezer at all times. Pop it in the maker, pour in the base and turn it on—that’s all it takes.

I have tried to make lower fat and sugar versions using just milk and no cream. No bueno. What comes out is the consistency of slushy milk which then freezes into a giant ice cube. So I stick to the heavy cream. I halve the sugar if I am adding fruit—we barely notice that it’s less sweet because of the richness of the cream and the vanilla flavor. And we actually eat the correct serving size—half cup—because since it tastes the way it’s supposed to, you don’t need as much to make your sweet tooth happy.

Recipe (courtesy Cuisinart)

1 cup milk

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla (for vanilla flavored ice cream) AND/OR

1 cup macerated, mashed fruit of your choice AND/OR

chocolate chips

Really, once you have the base, you can do whatever you want to it.

Whisk milk and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add cream and vanilla. Whisk until mixture becomes nice and frothy. Refrigerate for two hours. Then pour the base into the maker and process for 20-25 minutes. Add any other ingredients in the last five minutes.

Whisking the base. I like to get some air in there. I think it makes the ice cream creamier.

Whisking the base. I like to get some air in there. I think it makes the ice cream creamier.

Logistics:

There are ice cream makers out there that cost $300, but I don’t know why. The Cuisinart costs $60, and I also found a Hamilton Beach option at Target for under $30. That’s roughly the same as six half gallons of regular ice cream.

Pour it all in and turn it on. Easy!

Pour it all in and turn it on. Easy!

I have learned not to store the leftovers in the cylinder or Tupperware.  A glass bowl with an airtight lid keeps the ice cream from getting too hard or crystallizing.

If I’m adding fruit, I chop it, macerate it, mash it and then throw it in the last five minutes. If the chunks are too big, they get caught in the stirring thingy, causing the ice cream to back up and overflow.

My macerated, mashed and strained raspberries.

My macerated, mashed and strained raspberries.

There are lots of ice cream recipes out there, including in the booklet that comes with the machine. But some of them require a custard, and I’m not having that. The easy recipe is just fine.

And when I want to be crazy, I suffer the heat, bake up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and make my own ice cream sandwiches. I plop a scoop of newly made ice cream on completely cooled cookies, wrap it all in plastic wrap and pop it in the freezer. Two hours later, yummy summer goodness.

Kitchen Rules: If you help, you get to lick!

Kitchen Rules: If you help, you get to lick!

Enjoy!

 

Eggplant Parmigiana ~ Dana

Jen’s husband, Shea, makes a killer eggplant parm. Sadly, this is not that recipe. But in my quest to find a good one, I hit up my fantasy best friend, Martha Stewart. I’m not sure out of which issue of Martha Stewart Living I tore this, but it’s absolutely delicious. I posted pictures of it on Facebook a few months ago and several of you asked for the recipe, so far be it from me to deny the people what they want.

There’s a bit of prep involved in breading and frying the eggplant. In fact, I won’t make it during the week when my husband isn’t at home to wrangle the girls while I cook. But if you’ve got some time on a Sunday afternoon, it’ll be worth it for Sunday night dinner!

3543_10202577048404006_1352030903_n

Eggplant Parmigiana

Grease sometimes gives this dish a bad rap. The trick is to fry the breaded eggplant quickly over high heat, so it doesn’t absorb too much oil. Then drain on paper towels to remove any excess. Thanks, Martha!

For Breading and Frying

2 cups fine plain fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 large eggplants, sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed

For Assembling

Marinara Sauce (recipe to follow)
3 cups coarsely grated mozzarella cheese (12 ounces)
¾ cup finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (1½ ounces)

1. Bread and fry the eggplant: Combine breadcrumbs, Romano cheese, ½ tsp. salt, and some pepper. Put flour, eggs, and breadcrumb mixture in 3 separate dishes. Dredge eggplant in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg, letting excess drip off. Dredge in breadcrumbs to coat. Let stand for 30 minutes.

2. Heat oil in large, straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. (Oil is ready when a breadcrumb sizzles when dropped in.) Working in batches, fry eggplant until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. (If oil gets too dirty, discard, and heat an additional ¼ cup.)

3. Assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread ½ cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange a layer of eggplant on top, overlapping slightly. Top with 1 cup sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella and ¼ cup Romano. Repeat twice to form layers with eggplant, sauce, then cheeses. Cover with foil. Bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake until cheese melts, about 5 minutes more.

Marinara Sauce

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cans (28 ounces each) peeled whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, and some pepper. Simmer, covered, until thick, about 25 minutes. Stir in herbs.

My notes:

1. If you don’t want to make your own marinara, you can totally use your favorite jarred sauce. You need about 3 ½ cups.  But I will say that this one is delicious and makes your house smell really, really good while it’s bubbling away.

2. You can also use store-bought breadcrumbs and dried herbs, if you don’t have fresh readily available. Use 2 Tbsp dried basil and 1 tsp dried oregano and add to the sauce along with the tomatoes to give them a chance to reconstitute.

3. Seriously, if you have a one and a three-year-old, don’t do this alone!! Breading those eggplant slices leaves your fingers so goopy and gross. And then what if your one-year-old sticks an Easter jellybean up her nose? I’m just looking out for you.