“Since hunger is the most primitive and permanent of human wants, men always want to eat, but since their wish not to be a mere animal is also profound, they have always attended with special care to the manners which conceal the fact that at the table we are animals feeding.” - John Erskine

06 December 2011

lasagna soup and mars bar cake

I love that Oldest likes to cook.  Yes, because its fun to spend time with him in the kitchen.  Yes, because I dont have a daughter to pass all my recipes on to, so I’m thrilled to have a son to teach them to.  Yes, because his wife will love me that much more for teaching him to cook.  And yes, because he enjoys it and gets a lovely sense of self-worth when he serves and eats food he has prepared himself.  For all those altruistic reasons and more I love that Oldest likes to cook.  I’m even ok with the fact that Oldest would rather cook than do his housework, as I’d rather do his housework than cook.  See, the biggest reason I love that Oldest likes to cook is because on the days that he does it means I don’t.  It’s so nice to have someone to share that duty once in a while.  (My husband does not cook.  He survived for 2 years in New England eating Ramen and relying on the kindness of strangers.  He even went 3 weeks eating nothing but Hostess products ~ Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Zingers ~ because he lived next door to a day-old Hostess outlet and thought it would be a great way to save money.  I am really quite surprised he still likes the stuff.)

I threw my back out the other day and was gimpy for quite some time.  If you are considering putting tile in your kitchen, let me give you some advise: rethink your decision or invest in a very nice, cushy kitchen mat.  After spending all day on my feet on the tile preparing our double-take-giving feast I could barely move for a week!  I have a twinge-ish back anyway, so you might be ok, but it will make anyone’s feet and legs ache if they spend a considerable amount of time there.  Even Oldest complains.  And a great big HUGE shout of gratitude to my friend Kelli, who read my double-take-giving status on Facebook and bought me a memory foam mat for Christmas.  (Not to mention ~ ok, yes to mention ~ the fact that she is at this moment picking up Littlest from kinder and taking him to play at the kiddie land of a local burger joint and giving me the chance to get my laundry done, sit here in my jammies and blog.  LOVE YOU KELLI ~ you ROCK!)

So, back to Oldest.  I had my feet propped up, the heat pad on my back and a couple of ibuprofen digesting in my gullet when I slowly came to realize by the increasing volume of Littlest’s growling that the animals were getting restless and it must be dinnertime.  Oh, no no no, I was so not ready to step foot on that tile again.  I was just about to haul myself to my feet when Oldest volunteered to make dinner.  Oh how I’m coming to love those sweet words, “I’ll make dinner mom!”  So now the crucial question: what can I leave a ten-year-old in the kitchen unsupervised to create that will still be edible?  (I left him alone to make Toll-House cookies on Saturday ~ he put ¼ cup, yes ¼ CUP of vanilla in the batter.  It called for ½ teaspoon.)  I already had some cooked sausage in the freezer (I was so trying to be on the ball) so I figured this recipe should be easy enough.  And Oldests favorite thing to eat is soup, so it would be a little reward for him to get to eat something he loves.  This is what we decided on:

Lasagna Soup
serves 4
1½ pounds Italian sausage
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken broth
½ cup chopped fresh basil or 2 tablespoons dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
½ pound fusilli noodles (we used rotini), cooked and drained

cheese topping:
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1½ teaspoon dried basil
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, for sprinkling

In a large 4-quart pot, add the Italian sausage and cook over medium heat, breaking the pieces up with a wooden spoon or spatula while it cooks.  After about 3-4 minutes, add the onion.  Cook the sausage and onion together, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is cooked through and the onions are soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Drain any excess grease, if desired.  Stir in the garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and tomato paste.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the diced tomatoes with their juices, bay leaves and chicken broth.  Add the basil, if using dried (if using fresh basil, add it in the next step).

Bring the soup to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste and the fresh basil, if using.

For the cheese mixture, in a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and basil.  Set aside.

To serve the soup, add a scoop of cooked pasta noodles to a bowl.  Top with a ladle or two of soup and dollop with a generous spoonful of the cheese mixture.  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.  Serve immediately.
Oldest even set up the shot and took the picture.
So I had Oldest pull out the frozen sausage and warm it up in the soup pot first.  He must have been “distracted” as it was warming, because the bottom of the meat was blackened but not quite burnt.  I think it actually added a nice flavor to the soup.  I then read him off the ingredients, told him where to find some of them, and let him go to.  He was all set to make the cheese topping, but I realized I didn’t have any ricotta, so we just topped it with a handful sprinkle of mozzarella.  Yum.  Very flavorful, very warm, very delicious.  This just might end up replacing our previous favorite Pasta E Fagioli soup, which I haven’t quite figured out how to make without beans...

It was also recently Middlest’s birthday, so we had birthday cake for dessert.  More than anything else ~ presents and everything ~ he wanted a “mars cake”.  Yep, I made the mistake of (rather pathetically) making Oldest a “moon cake” (figured I’d try to learn some cake decorating skills while they’re young and don’t mind my horrific mistakes) for his last birthday. 
Moon cake from Oldest's birthday.
Poor Middlest.  I was so tired and hurty that I just wasn’t up to that kind of work.  Why did he have to be born around Thanksgiving?  (Oh, yeah, I remember.)  But I did make him a “surface of mars” cake made out of Mars Bars.  He was just as happy.  (Love how forgiving 7-year-old boys are!)
We actually had cake at my parents' house.   Now you know where my affinity for paper plates comes from.
Mars Bar Cake
source: food.com
3 (58 g) Mars bars, coarsely chopped
(according to the recipe you can use Milky Way bars instead)
¼ cup unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

2 Mars bars, coarsely chopped
½ cup unsalted butter
1½ cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk

1 Mars bar, thinly sliced

Grease and flour 10-inch tube pan with removable bottom.

In small pan on low heat, melt bars stirring frequently until blended. Set aside.

In medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda.

In large bowl, use electric hand mixer on medium low speed, then medium speed ,to beat together sugar and shortening until fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Beat in eggs 1 at a time thoroughly incorporating each one.  Beat in vanilla and Mars bar mixture until blended. Beat in a third of flour mixture.

Beat in half of the buttermilk.  Beat in the remaining flour mixture.  Beat in the remaining buttermilk.

Pour batter into prepared pan ,bake in preheated 325° oven 55 minutes or until tester comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack 15 minutes.  Turn out of pan on to serving plate.  Cool completely.

For icing, melt bars and butter on low heat, stirring frequently until blended.  Remove from heat.  Cool 5 minutes.  Add icing sugar, milk and vanilla.  Whisk vigorously until smooth.  Spoon over cake, allowing it to drip down sides.

For topping arrange Mars slices decoratively on top of cake.

Really really moist cake (so I don’t recommend trying to shape it into anything like a globe).  Really really yummy cake too.  Definitely worth giving it a try.  I didnt use the topping, but it might have made great dirt.

Just a couple more things about this recipe: First, it didn’t list sugar in the ingredients list.  Now, I love to bake, but I don’t know much about the science (chemistry?) of baking and how much of what you need with what to make a recipe turn out well.  I was in a desperate hurry and didn’t have time to wait for someone more knowledgeable to answer and e-mail and haul my bacon out of the fire (yet again), so I looked up another cake recipe and used that to estimate how much sugar should be in this cake.  I may have gotten the answer wrong.  Feel free to comment below if you happen to know the right answer.  Thanks!

Second, while dumping ingredients into the bowl I came to the sudden and awkward realization that I had no brown sugar in the house.  (Don’t ask me where all my brown sugar went.  No, really, don’t ask me.  Since I keep an extra in storage I honestly have no idea whatsoever where it could have disappeared to.)  Thanks go to Joy the Baker for saving my tushy this time.  See her homemade brown sugar recipe below.

And third, I have a friend who gave me some kiefer grains a few months ago.  ~ Ever heard of kefer?  No, not the guy on 24.  Wonder if he's named after the stuff...?  ~  Its a probiotic that grows in milk, makes kind of a sour cream/yogurt kind of thing if you take care of it and feed it.  (Does pretty well if youre better at benign neglect, too.)  ~  I used that in place of the buttermilk.  Mmm!  Makes awesome cake.

How to Make Brown Sugar 
1 cup granulated cane sugar
1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the sugar and molasses.  It’s that easy.  There’s a part in this process where the molasses is super gunky and clumpy.  You’ll think to yourself:  Joy, you were wrong… this is coming out all wrong.  Don’t worry.  keep mixing it all together.  It will even itself out.   Work it until completely incorporated and no big molasses globs remain.  For dark brown sugar, add another tablespoon of molasses.  Use as you would in your favorite cake and cookie recipes.  Store in an airtight container or in a ziploc bag with the air pressed out.  Dang that’s easy!

You really have to try this.  It works.  Not only does it work, but it makes the best brown sugar I’ve ever tried.  Soft.  No lumps or clumps.  No clinging together.  And luckily for me my stores of molasses were still intact.

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