My great grandmother was Slovak. Not exactly the person you’d think would be cooking a lasagna. And she wasn’t. But she did, however, make her own cheeses from unpasteurized milk and roll dough for pierogies and as most people know a pierogi is just a ravioli with a funnier name.
Living in the city, we were directly upstairs from my great grandparents and only a few blocks from all of my extended family. Cooking was a family affair and Great Grandma often had my parents, aunts, uncles and second cousins helping her with the rolling, kneading and mixing. At some point (I can’t remember when, I was very little) we started using fresh mozzarella and ricotta as substitutes for her home made cheeses since it was a lot less work and they had similar textures/flavors. Ever since, my mother has used my great grandmother’s technique for mixing cheese and filling dough. Every Christmas, my mother would set to the arduous task of making the old family recipe. Somewhere along the line (after my great grandparents had passed and we moved upstate) the pierogies stopped being served with browned butter and fried onions and started being served with red sauce and Parmesan cheese. From there, the same cheese mixture was seasoned with Italian herbs and spices and used to fill manicotti, lasagna and even stuffed shells. Everyone that tries these concoctions always comments on how, despite the copious quantities of cheese, they aren’t heavy, dense or chewy.
mmmm lasagna. Garfield the cat would be proud.
Next time, I’ll use a slightly larger bowl for the eggs yolks…
Folding the eggwhites in
Just another fold or two, don’t overwork it!
Oops! I forgot to mix in the egg yolks!
I like to use Pyrex instead of metal lasagna trays. I usually make 2 loaf pans and 2 individual servings, like this. Not only do they have snap-tight lids which is perfect for storage and taking it for lunch, they’re also clear which let you see all of the layered goodness and make your coworkers jealous.
Just a little sauce before putting the first noodle down.
I like my big Chef’s knife for cutting the noodles. This time I used a different brand of noodle and I’m not as happy with them. I definitely prefer the Barilla - they’re flat and break/cut more easily and have a fresher taste/texture.
Layer on some cheese mixture. Don’t be stingy.
More sauce. More cheese.
Even more cheese.
Broken noodle? No problem. Just throw the broken pieces right in there.
Last layer topped with fresh mozzarella
Side view *drool*
Oooo look at that bubbling cheese
Great Grandma’s Lasagna
Yield about half a tray
1 package oven-ready lasagna shells (I prefer Barilla)
1 large can/jar your favorite marinara sauce (or about 24oz home made)
1 large container ricotta (the best you can find/afford)
.5lb fresh mozzarella, sliced thin**
2 cups shredded low-moisture part-skim mozzarella**
2 eggs, separated
2 Tbsp oregano or marjoram
2 Tbsp basil
2 Tsp garlic powder
2 Tsp sugar
Salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
.5C each Grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses
1.5lb Lean Ground Serloin, browned, drained and cooled (If desired)
Whip the egg white in a small to medium non-plastic bowl until stiff peaks. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg yolks until light and fluffy. In a medium to large bowl combine the ricotta, egg yolks, spices and sugar. Add the egg whites and gently fold about 10 times or until just incorporated. You’ll notice it’s thin and a bit “runny” but don’t be alarmed. It’s just trying to trick you into over-mixing it. This is similar to baking a custard, cheesecake or souffle - you want the eggs to give the cheese lift and structure while baking so the important part is not overmixing it and keeping the eggwhites fluffy. This is what makes the lasagna light and airy.
Just cover the bottom of your tray with some sauce. Sprinkle some Parmesan and Romano cheese over it. Cut your noodles to size and place them in the sauce. Cover the noodle with some of the cheese mixture. Top with browned meat, if using. Cut more noodles to size and place in tray. Cover with more red sauce. Sprinkle on a thick layer of shredded low-moisture mozzarella and some Parmesan and Romano. Repeat those last several steps until your tray is almost full. For the last layer, I cover the noodle with sauce, grated cheese and slices of fresh mozzarella. Be careful to leave about a half inch of room since the lasagna will rise as it’s cooking and overflow = wasted lasagna = sad panda. At this point, you can either cook it or freeze it.
If you’re going to cook it: Tightly cover the tray with foil and bake at 350 for about an hour, depending on the size of your pan. If you’re making individual servings like me, about 40 minutes will do you. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-20 minutes until your fresh mozzarella is browned and bubbling like molten lava. Carefully remove from the oven and let set for about 15 minutes (I know it’s tempting, but you *really* need to let it cool a bit before diving in. Not only will the extra moisture absorb into the noodles and the lasagna will firm up, your tongue will thank me when it’s not missing several layers of flesh).
If you’re going to freeze it: Cover with press-and-seal or plastic wrap or foil and put the lid on your tray and freeze. It will need to defrost in the fridge for 2-3 days or at room temp for 4-6 hours. If you bake it frozen (which you can do, if you have nothing better to do than run up your Central Hudson/ConEd bill) it will take about 3-4 hours at 350.
**Part of preventing your lasagna from becoming “soupy” is to manage the moisture. Cheese has a lot of moisture in it and though the noodles will soak up quite a bit, I find that using low-moisture part-skim mozzarella inside of the lasagna helps prevent waterlogging. Don’t get me wrong - I love fresh mozz and often buy a whole pound for making this recipe instead of the required half pound. I like using the fresh mozzarella on top because it melts and browns/bubbles better than the low-moisture stuff. As I place the fresh mozz on top of the lasagna, one slice goes on top and one slice goes directly into my mouth. I keep repeating those 2 steps until I’m either sick to my stomach (I forget, I’m lactose intolerant, d’oh!) or run out of cheese and start cursing and begging/bartering with Jay to run out to the market real quick and get me another pound of mozz.
For those of you that aren’t new here, you know that for the last month or so I’ve imposed vegetarianism on myself in an attempt to improve a frustrating medical condition. The long and short of it is, I *really* like beef. This is like a smoker quitting cold turkey when they find out they’re pregnant. It’s not something you want to do, but unless you want mutant tumors spewing forth from your uterus, you best follow the doctor’s advice. It’s been really difficult, and people are constantly trying to tempt me. Hopefully posting this will help me get the meatloaf bug out of my system.
The original meatloaf recipe comes from my favourite Aunt, Janet aka Auntie Juanita (don’t ask, you really don’t want to know). The second version of this recipe was adapted for Jay who is a condiment purist and shudders at the thought of *gasp* ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and french onion soup mix all touching meat… AT THE SAME TIME! However, he is an avid meatball enthusiast and has stabbed people with a fork for attempting to deny him my home made meatballs, thus Italian Remix meatloaf was conceived. They both use the same technique, many of the same ingredients and follow the same principal. So, without any further delay, meatloaf v1 and v2.
Auntie Juanita’s Meatloaf
it’s not fancy, but it’s one hella meatloaf.
1 beer of your choice
Italian style bread crumbs (about a cup, give or take. may need more)
1lb 90% lean ground sirloin
coarse cracked black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp dried basil
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp garlic powder
1 pkg French Onion soup mix (or beef onion)
1 squirt ketchup
1 squirt steak sauce
1 squirt soy sauce
1 squirt Worcestershire sauce
2 squirts brown or yellow mustard
more ketchup to cover the meatloaf
Canned Cranberry sauce for garnish
Open the beer. Take a gulp. Preheat the oven to 375. Pour a couple splashes into the beef in a large bowl. Drink the rest of the beer while the oven heats up and the beef comes up to room temp (or warms slightly so your fingers don’t get frost bite). Pour all of the remaining ingredients into the bowl except the bread crumbs. Mix gently with your fingers, trying not to compress the meat – you don’t want it to be tough – it should be soupy. Slowly add the breadcrumbs while mixing until the beef mixture comes together into a loaf. It should be slightly tacky but not “wet”, just dry enough to form into a log without being mushy. Plop it down in a casserole dish slightly larger than the log (about a 2qt casserole, a 10” oval, whatever ya got). Slather a thin layer of ketchup over the entire meatloaf to seal in juices. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 (yes, I know I said preheat to 375. This way when you open the oven to put the loaf in, it’s good and hot and the temp doesn’t drop too far) for about 40 minutes. Take the foil off, slather a bit more ketchup on top and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the ketchup slightly browns/bubbles. Serve a slice of meatloaf with a slice of cranberry sauce.
The cranberry sauce is good and tart and will nicely counter the super sweetness of the browned ketchup. You can use the drippings in the pan with an envelope of brown gravy mix to make the perfect gravy to go with this meatloaf.
You can also use sandwich baggies/latex gloves if you don’t like getting the meat mixture on your hands.
Meatloaf – Italian Remix
1 large bottle of cheap red wine
Italian seasoned panko flakes (aka Japanese breadcrumbs. about a cup, give or take.)
1lb 90% lean ground sirloin
2-3 splashes milk
coarse cracked black pepper to taste
2-3 Tbsp dried basil
2-3 Tbsp dried oregano
2-3 Tbsp garlic powder
Red pepper flakes, to taste
.5c parmesean cheese, finely grated
.5c romano cheese, finely grated
if you’re so inclined, a couple cloves of fresh crushed/mashed garlic instead of dried garlic powder will really kick this up a couple notches.
1 can Hunt’s marinara (any flavor [I like the garlic n herb or 4 cheese]) **
Open the wine. Take a gulp. Preheat the oven to 375. Pour a couple splashes into the beef in a large bowl. Let the rest of the wine breathe while the oven heats up and the beef comes up to room temp (or warms slightly so your fingers don’t get frost bite). Pour all of the remaining ingredients (to the dotted line) into the bowl except the bread crumbs. Mix gently with your fingers, trying not to compress the meat – you don’t want it to be tough – it should be soupy. Slowly add the breadcrumbs while mixing until the beef mixture comes together into a loaf. It should be slightly tacky but not “wet”, just dry enough to form into a log without being mushy. Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of marinara. Plop the log down in the casserole dish. Slather a thin layer of marinara over the entire meatloaf to seal in juices. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 (yes, I know I said preheat to 375. This way when you open the oven to put the loaf in, it’s good and hot and the temp doesn’t drop too far) for about 40 minutes. Take the foil off, slather a bit more marinara on top and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the sauce slightly browns/bubbles. Serve the meatloaf with the rest of the red wine and pasta, like you would meatballs and use the remaining sauce. To reheat, cover a slice of meatloaf with marinara and microwave. This way the meatloaf won’t get dry/chewy.
**Now, I know some of you are saying ‘WTF?! CANNED SAUCE?! NOT EVEN FROM A JAR?!! BLASPHEMER’ but I have my reasons. 1, it is ultra thin and smooth, no chunks whatsoever and the consistency is perfect for slathering the meatlog and preventing it from sticking to the pan. 2, it is less than a dollar. Meatloaf is a budget food, people. You’re trying to stretch your meat to feed the most people for the least amount of money, and 2/$1.50 16oz cans of sauce fit the entire concept of the meal. 3, for all intents and purposes, it’s not terrible sauce. No, it’s not home made. No, it doesn’t even resemble real tomatos. But, no canned/jarred sauce does, and from our experience Hunt’s is the best of the worst.
Yet again I have attempted a cake from @SmittenKitchen. Not only A cake, THE cake. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting. So simple yet so easy for it to go terribly wrong. This is the classic. Everyone knows what it should taste like, at least in their opinion. It’s my fiance’s favorite type of cake. When I stumbled across this recipe, I asked “What do you think about this?” His response? “If you make it, I will eat it. All of it.” And on that note, on to the cake.
Yellow Cake Recipe:
This recipe is supposed to yield two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers but my experience shows either my 9” cake pans are slightly smaller than average or the recipe yields slightly more than this. Either way, only fill your pan 2/3 of the way full, just to be sure.
4 C plus 2 T cake flour (not self-rising)
2 t baking powder
1.5 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 sticks (aka 1 C butter) softened (preferably unsalted)
2 C sugar
2 t vanilla extract (go for the good stuff)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 C buttermilk (shake immediately before using
Preheat oven to 300°F. Thoroughly grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then spray parchment with nonstick cooking spray. Don’t try and cheat here. Take my word for it, you really want to use the Crisco.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In your electric mixer, beat the butter and the sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Then beat in the vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in the buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). If you have a splash guard, this is a good time to put it on. Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated. Again, remember to scrape down the sides of your bowl between additions!
Pour the batter evenly into the cake pans, then tap down. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool in their pans on a wire cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert the cakes onto the rack and discard parchment. Cool completely, about 1 hour. If you have the room, stick them in the freezer for that hour, it will make life easier later.
Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting Recipe
Makes 5 cups of frosting, give or take. It was enough to frost and fill a two layer 9-inch cake plus some.
15 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1.25 t instant coffee
2.25 C sour cream (room temperature)
.25 - .5 C corn syrup (or .25C corn syrup and .25C confectioners sugar, sifted)
.75 t vanilla extract
Combine the chocolate and instant coffee in the top of a double-boiler. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Lower the heat and let chocolate cool until tepid. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, the corn syrup, confectioners sugar if using, and vanilla extract until combined. Add the sour cream mixture to the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Once tempered with about a cup of the sour cream mixture, add the chocolate to the sour cream bowl. Taste for sweetness and add if necessary add additional corn syrup until you reach your desired sweetness.
Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. This should not take more than 30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff (I most definitely did NOT have this problem, as you can see) just leave it out at room temperature until it softens.
When measuring cake flour, I like to use a flexi cutting mat to catch any spills. Always spoon the flour from the canister until your measuring cup is overfilled, then level with a straight edge.
Make sure you scrape down the sides of your bowl. Except in rare circumstances, if you see a “chef” not scraping their bowl, RUN AWAY and don’t look back.
My method for making a parchment round that fits my cake pan is to fold a square in half then sort of line it up with the widest part of the pan.
Then fold it in half a couple times making a nice point
When your point looks like this, snip the edge nice and even.
You might need to trim it back a couple of times until you get it just right. Especially with this recipe, make sure you grease the pan very well getting down into the corners. I’d go with good ‘ole Crisco. I used non-stick cooking spray and it didn’t work very well.
Make sure to “tap down” the batter aka give the loaded pan a few good, hard raps against the counter to get rid of any large air bubbles. Remember to rotate and turn the cakes every 15 minutes while baking!
Now, on to the frosting!
This frosting came out a bit too soft, even with leaving it in the fridge for a solid hour then the freezer for an additional half-hour. Next time I might sub out some of the corn syrup for some confectioners sugar to stiffen it up.
Deb @SmittenKitchen warns to use room temperature sour cream because the warm chocolate meeting the cold cream caused the chocolate to partially seize. My sour cream was most definitely room temperature, and this still happened. I got little chocolate bits that clogged the pastry bag and looked like speckles throughout. Next time, I’d use a double boiler and temper the chocolate with the sour cream mixture instead of nuking the chocolate and adding it to the sour cream.
To get 15oz of chocolate chips, I got out my trusty digital kitchen scale and zeroed it with a large measuring cup on it then filled the cup to 15oz.
It was just about 2.25C for those of you anti kitchen scale nuts.
Once tempered, whisk the chocolate mixture into the sour cream mixture. Pop it in the fridge until your cake is done baking, cooled and ready to be frosted.
Houston, we have a problem. Either my 9” cake pans aren’t exactly 9” or this batter made slightly more than anticipated. Either way, it was nothing that can’t be fixed with a little trimming and some good, thick frosting.
I trimmed it to even it up as much as possible. The small cracks should *crosses fingers* hold up once the frosting is on. As you can see, the non-stick cooking spray did a thoroughly inadequate job of preventing the edges from sticking. At this point I popped it in the freezer for 20 minutes or so to firm it up.
Always crumb coat, people! I popped it back in the freezer for another 30 minutes to firm it up even more.
I like using a disposable pastry bag (my grandfather would be rolling in his grave!) to pipe the edge of the bottom layer. This way, you just plop down some frosting in the middle and it will squish out to the piping.
This is about when I realized that something was starting to go terribly wrong with the frosting. It was waaaaayyy too soft and not holding up to room temperature, even after only a few minutes.
Assembly complete. Hopefully with this running frosting it won’t flop or sag. I popped it back in the fridge for an hour at this point, trying to stiffen the frosting.
Saggy frosting? Check. Flopping cake? Check. Does it still taste as delicious as a cake with stiff, fluffy icing? You betcher ass it does.
Eggplant Meatless Meatballs
2 Medium Eggpant, peeled and cubed
2 Cloves Garlic, mashed
1 large egg
1 Splash Milk
2Tbsp Dried Oregano
2Tbsp Dried Basil
2Tbsp Dried Minced Onion
1tsp Red Pepper Flakes
Salt and Pepper to taste
~1 cup Italian Style Bread Crumbs
First came Veggie Patch brand meatless meatballs. The other day after work I had a pow-wow with my other half as to a plan of attack. With the meeting of the brain trust, it was decided that we would cook the meatless meatballs in the most flavorful way possible for this first encounter. I heated a couple tablespoons of olive oil (not extra virgin - it will burn!) until shimmering in the pan. I dropped them in and browned half the sides, then dropped in some chopped garlic scapes (yes, scapes) from my garden. If you don’t have scapes, any finely chopped garlic would work - just don’t add the garlic until browning the last side or it will burn. When they were all but done, I poured some leftover home made red sauce over top, covered and simmered them until the pasta was cooked and ready to be served. The verdict? They looked like beef, they smelled like beef, they chewed like beef (although dense,over-compressed meatballs), and they tasted like…… garlic, herbs and bread crumbs. Success #1. The real test? Jay ate them. Well, first he sniffed them. Then he cut them. Then he sniffed them again. Then he kind of licked them. Then he smelled them again. After making a scrunchy face, he took a bite. His reaction, “I can’t say I don’t like them”. He ate an astonishing 1 whole meatless meatball! The next day, I came home from work and he had finished the leftovers!!
Final Judgement: At just under $5 for 12 meatballs, the price is a bit steep, but they closely approximate beef meatballs. I’d buy them again, but I’ll attempt my own home-made meatless meatballs first. For ease, shelf life and lack of mess, they definitely have an edge. They’d get pricey for a family or people who eat larger meals.
Next up: The original Boca Burger, burnt buns and organic salad greens from the garden. Not to mention Tater Tots!
Due to some recent medical problems, my doctor has suggested that I go vegetarian. I’ve got mixed feelings about this, because while I appreciate the reasoning behind it, I really like meat. Then again, when I was young I was vegetarian. Believe it or not, I actually like tofu and regularly eat meals that have no meat. Not purposely; it’s just how things work out. For now, I guess I’ll give it a good, solid go and see if it makes any impact on my health. Graciously, my awesome finance, aka beefasaurus rex, has volunteered to try most of these strange and unnatural (as far as he’s concerned) concoctions right along side me. So, my new adventure begins.
I’ve started by ravaging Hannaford’s vegetarian and ethnic sections to find the tastiest flesh-free foods. Today, I had Taste of India’s frozen spinach/cheese curry with chickpea curry and nann. While the gravy of the spinach sauce was extremely watery, it was very flavorful and even a bit spicy (at least as far as frozen dinners go). The chickpea curry portion was *delicious* and could’ve come out of a low-end take out joint.. The pieces of naan were acceptable as far as frozen food goes, and an effective means for sopping up the spinach “gravy” but only need about half of the directed amount time in the microwave so it doesn’t become chewy and rubbery. Overall, for $3.49 it was a simple and tasty lunch to bring to work and a lot cheaper than takeout. I’d buy it again. Next time I’ll pick up some flat bread at the supermarket and bring an extra piece with the meal, though.
Next up, spaghetti with pre-formedVeggie Patch meatless meatballs from the Hannaford organic/vegetarian section. If they’re decent (i.e. if my fiance manages to choke them down without complaining too much) I’ll buy another package and post pictures and experiment with cooking methods etc. I plan on making my own meatless meatballs next weekend with my mom’s recipe (using eggplant instead of beef), but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
Cross your fingers and wish me luck… here goes my first official vegetarian family dinner!
My garden…. coming along slowly but surely! All of the rain led to lush vegetation but delayed fruit. I know organic gardening sounds like a messy load of work, but with only a few things and some determination, you can really make it work. More on that later, I need to go pick some berries.