Jul 31, 2008

The Joys of Lasagna

Lasagna is one of those foods that is just so good, and there are as many recipes as there are cooks. I am going to share three of my favorites today. To start, I have to tell you about a recipe book my first grade class made. The teacher sent home a paper requesting our favorite recipes. Many delicious items came back (and I do quote) - "Mandy's Favorite Chocolate Mint Snow-Top Cookies, Morgan's Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies," and " Kim's Favorite Pumpkin Spice Cake," etc, etc. You get the idea - chocolate, peanut butter, spice; a treat for all seasons. So what did little Rachael Harris say her favorite recipe was? Lasagna. Yup. And I am not even Italian.

So to start....

Rachael's Favorite Lasagna (at least in 1st grade)

2 15 oz. part skim Ricotta cheese
1 12oz part skim mozzarella cheese
8oz provolone cheese
1 egg
1 pkg. lasagna noodles
1 recipe for Italian tomato sauce (homemade or bottled)

Grate hard cheese and combine with Ricotta and egg. Boil water in a large pot, cook noodles and drain. Pour small amount of sauce into a 9X13 pan. Starting with noodles, layer with cheese. Pour remaining sauce over layers and back at 350 for 45 minutes.

For another version of this, see http://www.kraftfoods.com/kf/recipes/simply-lasagna-69196.aspx

And there you have it - simplicity at it's finest. As you get older you are more willing to try more adventurous food. I personally would call this next lasagna adventurous. It takes a while to prepare and it is definitely more difficult than the above. However, it is Eric's favorite. It is a recipe by PAULA DEEN, who I love. I can't find which cookbook it is from (I have them all), but I have it printed from 4 years ago when it aired on food network. So here it is, lasagna 2...

Eric's Favorite Lady and Son's Lasagna (Paula Deen original)

2 cups canned, diced tomatoes
2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/2 cup onions, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley leaves
1 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 1/2 tsp The Lady's House Seasoning, recipe follows
1 1/2 tsp seasoning salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 bay leaves (never leave out bay leaves!)

1 1/2 Lbs ground beef
6 to 9 Long strip lasagna noodles
12 oz cottage cheese, mixed with 1 beaten egg and 1/2 cup Parmesan
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup Swiss cheese, grated
2 cups cheddar, grated
1 8oz pkg cream cheese
1 cup mozzarella, grated

To make the sauce, in a stockpot, combine the tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, onions, peppers, garlic, parsley, seasoning mixtures, sugar, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Crumble the ground beef in a saucepan. Cook until no pink remains, then drain off the fat. Add the ground beef to the stockpot. Simmer for another 20 minutes. While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Remove bay leave.

Preheat oven to 350

To assemble lasagna, place a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9X13X2 dish. Layer 1/3 of each, noodles, cottage cheese mixture, Gruyere, Swiss, and cheddar cheeses. Pinch off small pieces of cream cheese and dot over other cheeses. Add another layer of sauce. Repeat layering 2-3 times ending with sauce. This may be covered and refrigerated at this point. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with mozzarella and continue to bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Note: If lasagna has been refrigerated, bake for 40 minutes total.

House Seasoning:
1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder
Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Few! Did you get all that? Next and last is a lasagna that is a little off the beaten trail. It is my adult favorite. This is what is great about lasagna, there are so many combinations to choose from! This is a recipe from my mom. I remember having it growing up and I have always loved it. In fact, I plan to make it Monday night. It is one of the only ways I will eat a green olive.

White Sauce Chicken Lasagna
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1 small onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
green olives, chopped (to taste but do add them even if you don't think you like green olives - TRUST ME they add amazing favor)
1 cup of cottage cheese
1-2 breasts shredded chicken (a quick way is to chop the chicken into smaller pieces, boil the it for a few minutes, let it cool, and then shred it up)
Lasagna noodles

Combine everything but chicken and noodles. Layer in a 9X13 pan sauce, chicken, noodles, ending with sauce on top.

So you might have found yourself wondering - cottage cheese or Ricotta? I personally love the creamy texture and flavor of Ricotta. Others simply hate the stuff (hard to believe I know). At the end of the day, it is a personal choice. But I can bet with a good lasagna, you can fool even an avid Ricotta cheese hater (I speak from experience). Enjoy!

Jul 26, 2008

The magic of Puff Pastry

Puff Pastry is one of my favorite things to work with. It can make almost anything seem more difficult than it really is. You can find Puff Pastry in your local grocery store by the frozen fruits and pies. Make sure you don't confuse Phyllo Dough for Puff Pastry - they are NOT the same. Keep some in your freezer and you can whip up a delicious dinner or lunch in no time. Below I will share two of my favorite Puff Pastry recipes (more to come later I assure you).

Creamy Spinach and Chicken Puff

I loved this growing up. I have adapted it slightly to make it a little more delicious.

1 large chicken breast, filleted (sliced length wise to prevent it from being too thick)
1 10oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
1 pkg cream cheese
1 sheet of Puff Pastry

Serves 4
Prepare your pastry sheet according to the package directions (usually it has to thaw for a time). On a lightly floured surface, roll out your pastry dough to make it slightly larger and to smooth the bumps it has from being folded. Try to keep it in a rectangle shape. Next, mix well the drained spinach with the cream cheese. Set aside. Take your filleted chicken pieces and lay them down the center of your dough, the long way, so that they only slightly over lap in the middle. Then cover chicken with creamy spinach mixture. Fold up the sides of your dough over the mixture so that they over lap. Press to seal (can use a little water too). It should look like a long tube. Pinch down the short ends to prevent anything from spilling out. Carefully transfer (could do this before assembling too) onto a baking sheet. I usually use stoneware for this. I have heard to lay it seam side down, but if it isn't sealed well, you could have a mess on your hands. I just leave the seam up. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes or more. What you are looking for is a good rise and puff from your pastry. If it hasn't puffed, give it more time.

Ham and Cheese Puff

This recipe was one I could have sworn I saw in Kraftfoods Magazine. But I looked all over their site and couldn't find it. So I put together what I thought the general idea was, and came up with a pretty good lunch or appetizer.

1 Puff Pastry sheet
Sliced ham from the deli
chive and onion cream cheese
Dijon mustard (optional)

Serves 2-3 for lunch or more for an appetizer
As above, prepare your pastry according to directions (usually has to thaw). On a slightly floured surface, roll out your dough to lengthen (keep rectangle shape) and work out most of the creases. Spread with a layer of cream cheese. Top with ham slices. Make sure to leave an edge all around your pastry. You then could spread a very thin layer of Dijon mustard over the ham, if you know everyone eating likes mustard. You could use regular mustard too if you prefer. I usually leave it plain and then put mustard on myself later in case someone doesn't like it. So now roll up the dough tightly, making it one long log. Cut the ends off. Then slice 1-2 inches wide down the whole roll. They should look like pin wheels. Place on a cookie sheet to bake. Bake 400 degrees for about 30 or more minutes. These won't puff as much as the above recipe, but they will puff a little. Look for the pastry to be cooked and crisp. Serve with a fruit salad and mustard to dip!

Jul 25, 2008

The Simplest Sweet and Sour Meatballs

On to the strangest two ingredients you would ever have thought to put together - or never thought to put together. I actually thought my sister-in-law had gone a little nuts when I saw chili sauce in her pantry. Her kids won't even eat tomato sauce let alone anything even CLOSE to chili sauce. I truly thought the stress of the past year had finally gotten to her and she just bought whatever she could at the grocery store. Oh no, there is logic to the madness. So here is the Sweet and Sour Meatball recipe I got from her, who got it from her mom, who got it from???? Well it is one of those.

1 12oz jar of CHILI SAUCE (look in the salad dressing isle)
1 16oz of GRAPE JELLY
1 2lb bag of meatballs

Combine chili sauce and jelly in either a pot on the stove or a slow cooker. Melt the two together, stirring frequently (slow cooker on high). Add meatballs. If cooking in a slow cooker, let them simmer on LOW all day if you can. They are the best this way. But you don't have to do this. You can cook them on the stove (covered) on low to med-low until the meatballs are heated all the way through. I serve over rice for dinner, but I also just EAT THEM because they are so good. You choose.

Easiest Chicken and Broccoli Bake

This recipe is fabulous! So many of these type of recipes call for ingredients like sour cream, cream cheese, or cream. Not this one. I am not trying to say it isn't LOADED with calories, but maybe a few less than the usual. I have found this is quick to make and almost everyone loves it (even those who have sworn off casseroles). I keep the ingredients on hand so I can through it together in a pinch any time. It is great for feeding a crowd!
This Chicken and Broccoli Bake is a Rachael Original, so please give credit where credit is due :^)

1 breast of chicken, cut into about 1-2 inch chunks
1/2 bag of broccoli (16oz bag) thawed and water drained. don't stress over this. Use as much broccoli as you want.
1 can cream of chicken condensed soup
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 sleeve of butter crackers
1 stick of butter

In a 9x9 (For a 9x13 double the recipe) casserole dish place the chicken in the bottom. Cover with a layer of broccoli. In a separate bowl, mix soup and cheese. Spread over top of chicken and broccoli. Melt butter in a microwave safe dish. Crush crackers (in the sleeve is the easiest - kids like to have this job). Mix crackers and butter. Sprinkle on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes until it bubbles and the chicken is cooked through. Yum! Serves 2-4.