Post # 555 Luscious Lasagna!

December 31, 2017 at 4:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

We had guests over yesterday, close friends of Partner/Spouse who we haven’t seen for several years.  They couldn’t stay long sing there was an impending snow storm and there were other people for them to see, but they were staying for a late lunch/early dinner.  I wanted to make something that would be impressive but easy and enticing.  Can you guess from the ingredients?

Yup!  Lasagna!  And since I’ve promised a couple of times but couldn’t find an actual post about it, I decided to take you through the steps on my way to a finished and delectable product.

Lasagna is an Italian casserole dish involving sauce, long flat noodles, and a ton of cheese.  It’s made in layers and the layers can be filled with as many different things as there are cooks.  The sauce can be from a jar, the noodles can be from a vegetable, the cheese can be from something other than dairy.  I’ve always made lasagna in a two day process, but I’ve watched television chefs make it in two step process.  I decided I wanted to make it the way I’ve always done, and since our guests were coming on Saturday, I started the sauce on Friday.

I put a large can of chopped tomatoes in the crockpot with an equally large can of tomato sauce and two small cans of tomato paste.  I added two tablespoons of mixed Italian seasonings with an extra teaspoon of oregano.  Then I crushed a lot of fresh garlic and added it with some powdered onion and some salt,  I also added a half teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.  You have to be careful with those since their heat can vary from bottle to bottle and brand to brand.  But I felt safe with these since I’ve used them in the past.  At the end, I added a teaspoon of cinnamon.  All this filled my little crockpot nearly to the top, so I flipped it to high and let it cook for several hours.  I stirred it several times to blend the flavors and make sure all the tomatoes were blended together and thickened.  Just before bedtime, I turned it off.  That was day one.

When I make this lasagna, there’s no doing a small portion.  I’ve used such a large pan and some much stuff that it’s weighed in at upwards of twenty pounds.  I even once sold a full pan for $40 to a coworker.  He felt he got his money’s worth.  So the next morning, I knew how I was going to fill it and cook it.  Usually I plan on three layers of different fillings.  I’ve filled them with fresh spinach, mushrooms, ricotta cheese, eggplant, onions, various meats and veggies, whatever I have on hand.  This one, I filled with ground sausage on the bottom, sliced mushroom in the middle, and ground beef on the top.

I didn’t want to get behind the curve on this and feel rushed at the end, so I started early by cooking the sausage, then the hamburger.  The sauce was cold and beautifully thick.  And it tasted GREAT!  I did the sausage first so I could use some of it to make sausage omelets.  Then I did the ground beef so I could use part of that for the dogs’ breakfast.  Then I set up bowls to fill with cheese, a big bowl filled with mozzarella, and a smaller bowl filled with roughly grated parmesan.  That’s what you’re seeing in the pics above.

After breakfast, and Partner/Spouse leaving to take care of a couple of errands, I got down to assembling the dish.  Like any pasta, lasagna noodles need to be cooked before you use them.  Except, somewhere along the last fifteen years or so some enterprising person designed an “oven ready” lasagna noodle.  I’ve never used them before but there they were.  I step saved.

Always start assembling with a thin layer of sauce to keep the noodles from sticking to the bottom.  A slight squirt of non-stick vegetable spray helps, too.  Lay down noodles to cover the sauce with another thin layer of sauce of the top of the noodles.  I put down a layer of crumbled cooked sausage for my first layer, then added two good handfuls of mozzarella cheese spread evenly over all of it with a sprinkle of parmesan over that.  Put another layer of noodles on top of the cheese and spread sauce over the top.  I put down a layer of sliced mushrooms, cheese, and then more noodles.  I finished by putting sauce of the noodles, laying down a good layer of hamburger, and put the rest of the mozzarella on top.  A goodly sprinkle of parmesan finished it off.  I was worried that I’d overfilled my pan, so I decided to cook it on a baking sheet to protect the oven.

There’s several ways you can go about cooking any cheese dish.  The goal is the nice brown and crusty top.  The best way to go about this is to cover the pan with foil and cook at 350-375 for about an hour.  Then take the foil off, raise the temp to 425 and cook for about 20-30 minutes, checking at the 20-, 25-, and 30-minute mark for the best looking browning.

I goofed and left it in about ten minutes too long, so mine looks burned even though it isn’t.

Also, another thing I should have thought through but didn’t is the oven-baked noodles.  Pasta of any kind needs moisture to cook, so the noodles sucked up all the moisture from the sauce and the melted cheeses.  When I served it, it was still warm, the cheese was gooey and stringy, but the lasagna as a whole was bone dry.  It tasted good, but either I should have made the sauce wetter, or I should have used more of it.

And the thing felt like it weighed 20 pounds.

Today, we’re having soup.

 

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Post #353 Memories Are Made of These

December 24, 2017 at 4:28 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This time of year I tend to think back over sixty plus years of holidays I’ve spent with loved ones.  Each giggle, each peal of laughter, each tear shed for those not with us, each sharing of the story behind each memory is a gift wrapped treasure.  I remember as a kid the holidays were filled with anticipation, looking forward to The Day.  The tree would be decked out in glory with promise of what was to come.  It’s funny how much things have changed from looking forward to looking backward.

I don’t know if I’m just different or what, but so many of my memories seem centered around food.  It was always about feasting, no matter what the holiday or celebration.  A table heavy laden with something special, or something everyday made special by abundance and celebration.  As a kid, I was always hungry anyway.  Growing kids have an bottomless stomach.  Christmas was different.  It was all about sugar.  Everything was sweet.  There were candy canes on the tree.  There were bowls of candy around the house.  Home made fudge was plentiful, as were chocolate chip cookies, iced sugar cookies, cakes, pies, and other assorted delicacies.  It was everywhere in the house.  Except the bedrooms.

Mom always went back to her roots during the holidays.  She made the things she had growing up.  Things I didn’t like.  Fruitcake, boiled honey candy, mincemeat pies.  But she also made things we liked.  Anything chocolate disappeared fast.  And turkey.

One year, after I finished college and started working full time again, I didn’t have time to do the kind of cooking I usually did.  There were still plenty of things to eat, but my sister noted that you could tell I was working long hours.  There was no fudge, few cookies, and only one cake.  I went to work and inside of two hours, there was a coconut cream pie, a cake cooling on the table, two batches of chocolate chip cookies, and fudge cooking on the stove.

One year, I made a batch of sugar cookies, but they looked kind of plain.  I made a big batch of frosting to go on them and split it into four bowls.  I colored them into red, blue, green, and white.  Then I put sprinkles on top and put them out.  They were gone in an hour, and my sister said the red ones tasted best.  I tried explaining they were identical, but even forty years later she swears the red ones taste best.

Since Partner/Spouse and I have been together, we’ve been making our own traditions for the holiday.  We do a mish-mash of holidays at this time of year, starting with the Solstice, and celebrating birthdays, and welcoming the arrival of a new year.  We’ve celebrated with feast of meats, and feasts of plants, and feasts of appetizers of various types.  Over the last few years, though, we’ve gravitated toward a meal of prime rib, bone in or not.

So when one of the local stores put prime rib roasts on sale for half off for one day only, we hot footed it right to the store and picked the best one for our needs.  This sucker was six pounds!  And we got it for just under $30.  When we got it home, I looked at it and decided we’d never eat that whole thing before it went to the dogs’ dinners, so I chopped two hefty sized steaks from it (had those on Saturday night!  Deeeelishus!)  It was still too large so I cut it in half.  I froze one of those pieces and the steaks, and put the other in cold age storage in the fridge.  Today, I made a blend of spices and rubbed it all over the roast.  Right now, it’s in the oven on the slow roast method.  The house smells terrific with onion, garlic, pepper, and meat roasting away.

In about an hour, we’re going to have what I hope is the start of a new and fun tradition.  In Iceland, Christmas Eve is the time to share books.  You give someone a book they wouldn’t ordinarily buy for themselves but that you think they’d enjoy.  The rest of the evening is spent reading, listening to music, and discussing what you’re reading.  And eating chocolate.  I’ve got the best book for him that I could think of.

Later, I’m going to make a potato gallete (recipe to follow), and I’m going to sauté some asparagus.  For the asparagus, I’m going to clean them and lay them flat into a large skillet.  I’m going to barely cover them with water and put about two tablespoons of butter in the pan.  I’m going to simmer them until the water evaporates and the butter coats them evenly.  They should end up thoroughly cooked and with wonderful scorch marks to add flavor.

The potato gallete is easy to make, but you have to work it right.  First, it’s important to slice the potatoes as thinly as possible.  A mandolin slicer, or a food processor will do this well.  You can slice by hand if you have a couple of hours and a sharp knife and steady hand.  Do not rinse the potatoes.  You need the starch to make this recipe work.

  • 4 good-sized Idaho baking potatoes (about 2 lbs)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons butter melted
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425°. Coat a 10-inch pie plate or shallow tart pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Place the butter in a glass measure and microwave it for a few seconds until melted.
  3. Slice the potatoes into very thin slices and distribute them in the bottom of your pie plate in a spiral fashion, 2 layers deep. Season with salt and pepper and brush with melted butter, then repeat the process, 2 layers at a time with the remaining potatoes. Try to be speedy because the potatoes start to discolor rather quickly when sliced so thin and be sure to cover your top layer completely with the melted butter so it browns up nicely in the hot oven.
  4. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, keeping an eye on the degree of browning. When done, the potatoes will shrink away from the sides of the dish slightly and be fork-tender in the middle. Allow to cool slightly and cut into wedges for serving.

You can vary the recipe by adding herbs to the layer, or cheese, or veggies (hey! asparagus would work!) or even leftover bacon bits or ham slices.  You can also use different types of pans.  Think muffin tins to make individual gelletes, or pizza stones, or spring form pans.  Whatever you think will work.

So that’s our Christmas Eve, our holiday season, our new tradition.  I hope yours is pleasant, happy, joyful, and all those other great words.  Take care, stay warm, and as always

 

Post #552 A Messy Breakfast, Diner Review

December 10, 2017 at 7:17 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I hardly know what to say.  Nearly two months since a post, but a ton has happened.  I won’t go into details, but everything was positive apart from the feeling of exhaustion brought on by working long hours and the subsequent illness from it.  But all is well now, and I’m still gainfully employed and doing great.

This has been an interesting week.  All week long snow was predicted and like any future prediction, no one was exactly sure what was going to happen.  Total inches to fall ranged from none to twelve.  Our apartment complex sent out instructions on how we were to handle parking lot snow plowing so everyone would be inconvenienced as little as possible.  The cities and villages alerted everyone to what roads were considered emergency routes.  The various television stations gave different times when the snow would start falling.

We had things we needed to get done this weekend.  I had to get a start on gift shopping.  We needed to get a few groceries in.  I wanted wine.  Just the standard stuff.  Partner/Spouse had been asking around work about how the grocery stores would be.  He was told there wouldn’t be any problem.  When I asked where I worked about it, I was told everyone went crazy and the stores would be jammed.  But, he got off work early, hit the grocery store early, picked me up early, and one of the errands we had scheduled for Saturday morning before the snow arrived was completed early.  We got home at our normal time feeling very accomplished.

The next morning, we took care of our one remaining errand , a trip to the bookstore!  Yay!  Happy happy happy.  We love the bookstores.  We decided that this year we’re starting a new holiday tradition.  In Iceland, on Dec 24, each person is given a book, and the rest of the evening is spent reading and sharing.  We want to start doing this and couple it with some of our personal traditions like music, and food, and wine, and more food, and chocolate food things, and a fire.

But not this fire.  As inviting as it looks, we don’t have the wherewithal to have a bonfire.

So we stepped outside to drive to the bookstore, and it was snowing!  It wasn’t a heavy snow.  The flakes varied from light and wispy to a huge fluffy white monstrosity.  But the ground was too warm, nothing was sticking (yet), and it was mostly just puddles of water.  It was okay since we needed to get out.  Fun trip to the bookstore, with a little drama tossed in as we were both in line at the same time and didn’t want the other to see what we’d purchased.  Even people in line around me were helping me hide the things I’d chosen.  The lady at the counter helped me hide the things, and the girl scout troop doing free gift wrapping set records in wrapping.  It was fun.  We got home at a decent time, got our regular chores started, the snow fell in earnest.  It didn’t matter.  We were inside, warm, cuddling with the dogs, reading and watching movies.  Life is good.

The next morning, we woke to this:

Right out of a calendar.  We only got 2-3 inches, about half of what was anticipated.  Our apartment complex is a little strict about their policies, so we got up early to clean off the car and get our spot cleared so the snow plow could come through.  Then, because we entranced by the snow and the balminess of the temperature, and the stillness of the neighborhood, we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at our favorite diner.

If you’re ever on Main St in West Warwick, RI and it’s between 7am and 2pm and you don’t have a huge amount to spend, and you want to spend it on really good food that’s plentiful, Messy’s Café is the place to be.  Small and unassuming, it combines everything that a good diner is supposed to be with an undefinable air of caring about their customers.

They remember who’s been in their place, and what they usually order.  They always have a smile, a friendly word, a heartfelt greeting, and always a happy sense of humor.  They serve breakfast and lunch along with take out dinner items like pizza and calzone.  Their menu is extensive and contains the standards, along with surprises.  Wraps sit alongside bacon and eggs.  Belgian waffles can share the same table as biscuits and gravy.

On only our second visit, Partner/Spouse ordered a bagel and the lady taking our order asked, “No french toast this time?” because that’s what he’d ordered the first time we’d been there a few weeks before.

I fell in love with the bacon egg and cheese sandwich on a croissant.  They grill the croissant before building the sandwich and it all comes out hot and sizzling and buttery.  So good.  So I had that again today.

I can’t say enough good about this place.  It’s rare that you find a family owned and operated restaurant where everyone acts like they enjoy what they’re doing.  Even when leaving the place, they all wish you a great day.  It’s like leaving your best friend’s house.

As always,

 

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