“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

26 January 2012

the best lasagna. ever.

I know I haven’t been blogging much lately.  In fact, I think pretty much every blog so far this year has said something of the sort.  It’s not that I haven’t been cooking.  I have.  But I keep forgetting to take pictures.  Life has been crazy/wonderful and we’re falling into familiar routines and I just haven’t remembered to pull out the camera.  (Sad, I know.  I need to at least be photo-documenting the growth of my little animals.)  Then I feel guilty using someone else’s pictures for my blogs.  However, this lasagna was so good I can’t just not blog about it, so I’m sucking up my ... pride? ... and posting with someone else’s pictures anyway.

Just for the record, my husband loves lasagna.  He always wants me to have those nauseating (I got sick after eating one once ~ the flu, not the food ~ and have associated nausea with them ever since) frozen lasagnas on hand, and they are handy, so long as you remember to take them out of the freezer a day ahead or plan on a 2 hour cooking time.  Which for me makes them not all that handy.  This recipe has the added bonus of being freezable, without the 2 hour cook time.

The Best Lasagna. Ever.
serves 12
1½ pound ground beef
1 pound hot breakfast sausage
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) whole tomatoes
2 cans (6 ounces each) tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups lowfat cottage cheese
2 whole beaten eggs
½ cup grated (not shredded) parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound sliced mozzarella cheese
1 package (10 ounce) lasagna noodles

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan, combine ground beef, sausage, and garlic.  Cook over medium-high heat until browned.  Drain half the fat; less if you’re feeling naughty.  Add tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons parsley, basil and salt.  After adding the tomatoes, the sauce mixture should simmer for 45 minutes while you are working on the other steps.

In a medium bowl, mix cottage cheese, beaten eggs, parmesan, 2 more tablespoons parsley, and 1 more teaspoon salt.  Stir together well.  Set aside.  Cook lasagna until “al dente” (not overly cooked).

To assemble: Arrange 4 cooked lasagna noodles in the bottom of a baking pan, overlapping if necessary.  Spoon half the cottage cheese mixture over the noodles.  Spread evenly.  Cover cottage cheese with a layer of mozzarella cheese.  Spoon a little less than half the meat/sauce mixture over the top.  Repeat, ending with meat/sauce mixture.  Sprinkle top generously with extra parmesan.

Either freeze, refrigerate for up to two days, or bake immediately: 350° oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until top is hot and bubbly.

I don’t much like making lasagna ~ too many steps for me I think ~ but this one wasn’t all that bad.  Since the sauce has to simmer for 45 minutes, I do recommend waiting until you have that going before starting on the noodles, however.  And it was made of things I actually keep in the house, so I didn’t have to buy anything extra.  Except the parsley.  Boy does it call for a lot of parsley.  I, of course, didn’t use that much parsley.  Instead I used Chef TessRomantic Italian Dinner Seasoning.  Mmm.  Four tablespoons in the meat sauce instead of the basil and parsley.  Wow is that stuff good!  I did give in and use the parsley in the cheese sauce tho.  (I’m jealous of my Chef Tess spices and didn’t want to “waste” it all on one dish.  That’s A LOT of parsley!)  I ended up using a little more ground beef than was called for because I had a frozen bag with 1¾ pounds in it, but it seemed to be just right for my carnivores.  Although next time I think I’ll go with regular instead of spicy sausage.  Even my husband didn’t like the spiciness.

 As usual, I used Bella Colina instead of parm, diced tomatoes instead of whole (which I thought Middlest ~ my tomato-hater, would tolerate better), and grated mozzarella instead of slices.

Have to say, this is the one and only lasagna I’ve ever fed my family that everyone liked.  I think it may be due to the fact that there is no ricotta cheese in it.  Middlest and Littlest dont like ricotta much.  My husband rated it one of the best lasagnas he’s ever eaten.  Not THE best, but one of ‘em.  And for my lasagna connoisseur that’s saying something.

21 January 2012

italian chicken noodle soup ~ sorta

I love soup.  Oldest loves soup.  Middlest and Littlest seem to not like soup, or theyre tired of it.  My husband says soup isn’t a meal, it’s an appetizer and when there’s only soup he gets hungry again about an hour after eating.  Because it’s mainly Oldest and I who want soup, I really do try to make it sparingly, but on cold freezy sick days when there’s little time, energy or desire to cook, soup is such a great option.

That being said, one of my husband’s favorite meals is pasta e fagioli soup.  (I promise Ill make it and share our favorite recipe with you soon.)  Maybe he likes this particular soup because there are so many noodles in it that it fills him up.  Problem is that he doesn’t like beans, and I haven’t figured out how to cook it to my satisfaction without the beans.  And what would I call it?  Pasta e ... carne?  So I thought this soup might be a good compromise.  Same sorts of flavors, chicken instead of beef and sausage, so more healthy, and no unwanted beans.

Italian Chicken Noodle Soup
serves 6
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about ½ lb), cut into ½” pieces
1 medium onion, chopped (½ cup)
32 ounces chicken broth (4 cups)
2 cups water
3 medium carrots, sliced (1½ cups)
2 cups broccoli florets
1½ cups uncooked medium egg noodles
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
½ teaspoon garlic-pepper blend
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In 4-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add chicken.  Cook 4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink in center.  Stir in onion.  Cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender.
Stir in broth, water and carrots.  Heat to boiling.  Cook 5 minutes over medium heat.  Stir in broccoli, noodles, basil and garlic-pepper blend.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer uncovered 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables and noodles are tender.

Top each serving with cheese.

I don’t ordinarily keep egg noodles in the house, so I opted for rotini.  Mostly.  I did have a about a cup of shells that needed to be used up so I tossed them in the pot too.  I wanted a thicker soup, so I just tossed the noodles into the water/broth bath and let them soak up a lot of the liquid.  I didn’t feel like chopping, so I shredded the carrots with my mom’s hand-me-down Salad Shooter.  I was going to use frozen broccoli but couldnt find it so I used broccoli and cauliflower (one 12 ounce bag, steamed) and canned chicken ~ but only one can, since I wasn’t in much of a chickenish mood.  When everything was cooked, I turned off the heat and stirred some 4 cheese Italian blend strait into the mix.

Have to say, it turned out pretty well.  Not very soup-like, but warm, noodly and satisfying.  And maybe even good medicine for my cold.  (Hey, it was chicken soup, right?)  Everyone at it and seemed to like it quite well.  Chicken pasta e fagioli.  Without the fagioli.

19 January 2012

cheese crescent triangles

That's frost on the strawberries, not sugar.  They were frozen.  Just saying...  Don't they look pretty on a nest of vanilla yogurt?

A fierce cold from the nether regions has infiltrated our family unit and is wreaking havoc even as we speak.  I have been so busy on my quest for a magic book or spell that would dispatch this evil back to the realms from which it came that I completely forgot all about blogging.  (I.E. I haven’t been on in a while because I’ve been nursing an ugly cold.)  But despite my lack of interest in much of anything except the new episodes of shows I’ve missed since Christmas break and the inside of my eyelids, I DID pull myself together long enough to make Sunday breakfast.  Are you impressed.  Ok, these were relatively easy ~ appetizers that I thought might make an interesting breakfast ~ so you might not be that impressed, but if we’re basing things on how I felt while I was making them, you really should be impressed!
I blame the cold-induced mindlessness on the misshapen triangles and the crusty cheese.  Yeah, that's it.  The cold-induced mindlessness.
Cheese Crescent Triangles
makes 24
4 ounces tomato-basil feta cheese, finely crumbled (1 cup)
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions (2 medium)
1 egg, well beaten
1 can (8 oz.) refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375°.  In small bowl, mix feta cheese, green onions and 3 tablespoons of the beaten egg.

Unroll dough; separate into 4 rectangles.  Press perforations to seal.  Press each rectangle into 7½x5” rectangle.  Cut rectangle into 3 rows by 2 rows to make 6 (2½”) squares.  Top each dough square with slightly rounded measuring teaspoon feta cheese mixture.  Fold dough over filling, forming triangle; press edges to seal.

On ungreased cookie sheets, place triangles 2 inches apart.  Repeat with remaining 3 dough rectangles and feta cheese mixture.

Brush tops with remaining beaten egg.  Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese.  Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve warm.

These were quick and easy, and great for a Sunday morning breakfast... except they tasted a little more bitter than I was going for.  It could be that this cold has put my taster off ~ I have noticed things smelling and tasting a little different than I expect them to.  And, of course, I used onion powder instead of green onions, but I did everything else strictly by the book. (By the recipe book, hehe.)  I found some tomato-basil feta at Smith’s in the deli cheese section (cant find a picture tho), had some of these on hand, and replaced the parmesan with this.  Other than those minor changes (ok, ok, I changed everything but the egg!) I stuck to the recipe.  Not sure what the bitter was about, but I think if I ever make these again I’m going to try mozzarella instead of feta...

Oldest really liked them, Middlest left his on his plate (he had already eaten a Pop-Tart) and Littlest stuck to the berries.  My husband wasn’t too enthusiastic either.  He said he’d eat them if I made them (which he did) but they’re not something he would request.

14 January 2012

pasta with italian chicken sausage

You may remember me mentioning that my husband has been wanting to eat more healthy meals.  I’m not the best at “healthy” cooking ~ most of the time I don’t like low fat, low calorie (low taste) meals, so I’ve balked at that a bit.  But I have added several healthier meals to my list of things to try, and this is one of them.  I was very reluctant to try the chicken sausage, since I tried turkey sausage once and REALLY didn’t like it.  Lucky for me the only chicken sausage I could find was this, with provolone cheese mixed in.  I totally think the extra provolone made the meal.

Pasta with Italian Chicken Sausage, Peppers and Escarole
serves 12
source: Skinny Taste
24 ounces ronzoni smart taste pasta (or whole wheat)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
10 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds Italian chicken sausage, removed from casing
2 medium heads escarole lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces
½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano (I used this)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt and fresh pepper to taste

Rinse escarole and tear into bite sized pieces.

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water.  Reserve 1 cup water before draining.

While pasta water boils, heat a large non-stick skillet on medium heat.  Add olive oil; when hot add onions, peppers, garlic, salt and pepper.  Cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes.

Add sausage, breaking up with a wooden spoon and cook until golden, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Add escarole, cover and cook 2 minutes; remove the cover, stir and cook about 3 more minutes or until wilted.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Add cooked pasta, red pepper flakes, reserved water and Parmigiano Reggiano, toss well and transfer to a large serving bowl.  Serve immediately.

I’m not quite sure what escarole is, and couldn’t find anything like it at our local Wal-Mart, so I just got some green leaf lettuce.  I didn’t add a whole head, and was quite glad for it.  The lettuce wilted (which I was expecting) and ended up tasting bitter.  I think all of us pretty much pushed it aside.  Next time I make this I think I’ll use fresh spinach instead.  I am also never, never, NEVER trying to pull casings off sausage again.  If I can’t buy it uncased (like this) then I’m just going to chop it into bite-sized pieces and be done with it.  Ug.  My noodles ended up overcooked because it took so much time to “uncase” the sausage, so if you decide to go this route may I recommend uncasing before you start cooking the noodles.

You notice that the original recipe is called “Pasta with Italian Chicken Sausage, Peppers and Escarole”, but my title leaves the last two items out.  I’ve already explained the escarole, and it probably won’t surprise anyone to know that I left the peppers out.  I had planned on buying a couple just for flavor and picking them out before serving, but I forgot to put them in the basket.  And I was coming down with a bad cold and just wanted dinner done and on the table, so I made due with the usual onion powder, but left out the garlic (ME leave out garlic?!?  Yep.  Just couldn’t be bothered searching the fridge for it...), the crushed red pepper and the salt and pepper.  The sausage was so nicely seasoned that no one missed any of that.  (Of course, it may have tasted even better with it.  I’ll have to try it the right way next time.)

I don’t think anyone in the family knew this was supposed to be a “healthy” dinner.  I worried about whether my husband would be ok with no actual sauce, but the lightly cheesy noodles and the Italian spices in the chicken seemed to be just right for everyone.  Maybe I can do this healthy cooking thing after all...

10 January 2012

croissant french toast

Our beautiful breakfast perched like an exotic butterfly on a flower of fruit.

“Everything in moderation... including moderation.” -Julia Child

I don’t know about your family, but mine is always rushed in the morning.  I remember as a kid getting up to a homemade breakfast ~ oatmeal, pancakes, French toast ~ and having a leisurely meal chatting or even reading together around the breakfast table.  Of course, my mother not only had to get ready for work in the morning, but she is also an early riser ~ we’re talking 5:30 on a Saturday!  That, and I probably have a selective memory of what my childhood was like.  At our house, the alarm goes off at 7:15, I drag myself wearily out of bed, herd the sleepy animals out of their stalls and then it’s: pleasegetoutofbedanddressed!
(in other words, constant nagging, rushing, bullying) until we hear a horn honking in our driveway, or ~ worse yet ~ our carpool buddy is ringing the doorbell.  Breakfast usually consists of a rotation of cold cereal, hot cereal and toast shoveled down as quickly as possible.  And yes, I do feel like a horrible mother.  At least I’m not feeding them poptarts.  (Ok, I am feeding them poptarts, but only on Saturdays.  I have a strict no-sugar for breakfast on school days policy.)

As of January 1st we no longer have to be at church at 9 a.m., so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for us to spend a leisurely meal chatting or even reading together around the breakfast table.  That, and to try out a few of the myriad breakfast recipes clogging up my recipe files.  Our first try was a huge hit.

Croissant French Toast
serves 4
source: taste of home
vanilla sauce:
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups whipping cream
½ cup sugar
2 scoops vanilla ice cream

berry sauce:
2 cups unsweetened raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar

French toast:
3 eggs
4 croissants, split
2 tablespoons butter

In a bowl, combine flour, egg yolks and vanilla; set aside.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the whipping cream and sugar to a boil; remove from the heat.  Stir a small amount of hot cream into egg yolk mixture; return all to the pan, stirring constantly.  Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat; stir in ice cream until melted.  Set aside.

Combine raspberries and sugar in a saucepan.  Simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat; set aside.

In a shallow bowl, beat eggs.  Dip both sides of croissants in egg mixture.  On a griddle, brown croissants on both sides in butter.

Serve with vanilla and berry sauces.

This time I followed the recipe exactly.  Really.  I did!  Ok, ok, I didn’t EXACTLY.  I doubled it.  And I was running low on cream, so I used 3 cups of whipping cream and 1 cup of milk.  Should have just halved the vanilla sauce (or undoubled it ~ yep, a real word, I looked it up) since we ended up having WAY too much vanilla sauce, even for my saucy husband.  That, and the milk curdled a bit while boiling.  I used some of my vanilla bean sugar for sugar in the vanilla sauce, and thought it added a nice touch, but I dont think it really needed the vanilla ice cream.  I dont know.  Try it and let me know what you think.  I also used frozen raspberries (still unsweetened though).  Hmm, I think that’s it.  See, I really did follow the recipe!

 I used the HUGE croissants from Sam’s Club, so I only ended up cooking 6 of them, instead of 8, three at a time in my very large electric fry pan.  My husband ate 2, and the rest of us had 1, and with a little fresh fruit on the side it was plenty.  They got snarfed up so quickly all there was left was a whiff of luscious raspberry sauce in the air.

Did I mention my husband is on a “health kick”?  After inhaling his breakfast he asked me if these were healthy.  My reply (to my pie-loving, insists-that-pie-is-a-“healthy”-dessert-because-it-has-fruit-in-it husband): It has great nutrition (after all, it has a bunch of fruit for antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, plus milk and egg for dairy and protein) and is at least as healthy, if not more so, than pie.

07 January 2012

ham and cheese sliders

I woke up this morning and what did I see...

Not popcorn popping ~ in fact, very far from it!  Kind of made me laugh to see my kids trying out the sled Santa brought them when today’s recipe is ... sliders.  Get it?  Sliders?  Well, I thought it was funny.

In preparation for the many recipes I have planned to try this month, I made my monthly journey to Sam’s with Littlest.  It was an interesting experience for the two of us, as I usually drag Grandma along to provide some much needed adult conversation ~ not to mention a second grown-up for crowd control.  But Grandma has been sick and I didn’t want to stress her system further with a monumental grocery trek.  And my grocery treks are monumental.  Hey, I’m feeding a slew (sounder? convocation? bevy? ~ who decides what groups of animals are called anyway?) of hungry animals here, and I try to only go once a month.  And have you seen the size of the foodstuffs they sell in club stores?  They’re huge.  Yes, yes I am defensive.  I had several people comment on how much Littlest and I were buying.  Another reason to bring Grandma along; apparently people think some of my stuff is hers when she is with me.  But despite the amazed comments, Littlest and I enjoyed our one on one time immensely.

Anyway.  One of the items purchased during this monthly sortie was a box of a dozen large fresh-baked croissants.  (Planning on making breakfast with them tomorrow.)  Everyone saw them, coveted them, drooled over them... demanded that I make ham and cheese croissants immediately.  (My mother-in-law has a simple, delicious recipe for ham and cheese croissants that she made for special occasions and our family loves.  I’ll have to share that some time.)  Much to my disgruntled husband’s dissatisfaction, I was NOT making ham and cheese croissants.  I was making ham and cheese sliders, and no amount of persuasion was going to change my mind.  Honestly!  Just who do these animals think the cook is around here anyway?  This is not a restaurant where whatever anyone wants is made to order!  If I’m doing the cooking, then they’re going to have to suck it up and eat what I make!  Whew.  I had no idea I felt so strongly about this subject.  Now that I think about it, that could really be one of the reasons I hate the dreaded question so much.  (“What’s for dinner?” Aaaarrrrgggg!)

Boy, I digress again.  I’m a serious digresser today.  (Yep, that’s a word.  Look it up.)  This post is full of digression.  So, to make a long story short (too late!) I made Ham and Cheese Sliders last night, and the animals around here were planning on being unhappy about it.  I told my husband that it was quite possible that he would actually like them better than ham and cheese croissants.  He said not likely.  Then he took a bite.  I watched him with rapt attention.  He took another bite.  “So...?” I finally prompted.

“They’re good,” was the frustrating reply, muffled by melty cheese and bread.  He took another bite.  “They’re really good.”  Well, that was better...

“Enough sauce?” I asked, knowing that my husband is a saucy kind of guy and despite being bathed in a delicious poppy seed sauce, these sandwiches really aren’t very wet.

“Perfect,” was his gratifying response.

“Better than ham and cheese croissants?”  Yes, I’m ashamed to admit, there was a part of me that wanted my husband to like my cooking better than his mother’s.  I may be going to hell for this.

“You have to understand, I really love ham and cheese croissants,” he demurred.  My ego very slightly but satisfyingly stroked, his mother given her proper due, I allowed myself to be mollified and went back to my own dinner.  I was very surprised when, licking butter from his fingers a few minutes later he said, completely unprompted, “Those are amazing.  Restaurant quality.”  (I think out of the 12 I made, he ate 5.)

Wow.  Just wow.  Nothing I have ever cooked has EVER been compared to something you can get in a restaurant.  Even when I try out recipes strait from a restaurant!  What more need I say about these sliders?  Simple?  Yep.  Not too many ingredients?  Yep.  Most if not all ingredients already in the house (except maybe the rolls)?  Yep.  Fun to make with Oldest?  Absolutely!

Here’s the recipe so you can shock and amaze your own family.

Ham and Cheese Sliders
24 good white dinner rolls
24 pieces good honey ham (I used black forest)
24 small slices Swiss cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup miracle whip
poppy seed sauce:
½ tablespoon poppyseeds
¾ tablespoon yellow mustard
¼ cup butter, melted
½ tablespoon minced onion
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise and miracle whip.  Spread onto both sides of the center of each roll.  Place a slice of ham and a slice of Swiss inside of each roll.  Close rolls and place them into a large baking dish or heavy cookie sheet.  Place very close together.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the poppy seed sauce ingredients.  Pour evenly over all of the sandwiches.  Just use enough to cover the tops.  Let sit 10 minutes or until butter sets slightly.  Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until cheese is melted.  Uncover and cook for 2 additional minutes or until tops are slightly brown and crispy.  Serve warm.

Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip?  Why does it seem that everyone likes one or the other, but not both.  Unexpectedly, this recipe calls for both, but I gag at the thought of Miracle Whip, so I balked and used just the mayo.  We didn’t measure it, just slathered it into the rolls, top and bottom.  Oh, and I guess mine weren’t actually sliders, since I used full-sized fresh-baked kaiser rolls.  Mmm.  They looked so inviting I just had to bring them home with me.  And I’m so glad I did.  We put one slice of ham and one slice of cheese inside and packed 12 of them onto a foil-lined standard sized cookie sheet.
 And I was going to use minced onion, I really was, but I couldn’t find it.  So I used ½ tablespoon minced garlic and a generous sprinkling of onion powder.  (I doubled the sauce ~ which I had halved from the original recipe at the author's suggestion.  But after I melted the butter I knew it wasn’t going to be enough.)

Try these.  Bake these.  Eat these.  Amaze and delight your family with these.