Mushroom Lasagna

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My father-in-law visited us last weekend and we had his absolute favorite meal at our house, mushroom lasagna.  He always asks, “What do you call this thing?” when we’re eating it, which I think is funny.  I think he has a hard time calling something “lasagna” which looks totally different from the classic towering colossus of meat, cheese and red sauce that most people associate with the term.  The presentation of this lasagna is elegant, but the mushrooms provide plenty of meatiness to serve it as an entrée.  This is an Ina Garten recipe, but I’ve made some adjustments; I add more mushrooms and use the Barilla no cook noodles, which I soak in warm water before assembling the lasagna.  I’ve also toyed with the cheese mixture.  I’ve added a little fontina, which melts nicely and when I make this for my family, I add chopped spinach.*

– Catherine

* I might toy with the recipe, but not the ritual.  I always drink a Miller Lite while I assemble it, as evidenced in the photo below.

Mushroom Lasagna (adapted from Ina Garten’s Portobello Mushroom Lasagna, Barefoot Contessa at Home)

2 lbs baby portobello mushrooms, stems removed, sliced about 1/4 inch thick

4 cups whole milk

12 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cup parmesean cheese

7 ounces Barilla Lasagna noodles (the “No Boiling Required” flat ones)

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large glass measuring cup, heat the milk in the microwave until hot, but not boiling.  In a medium saucepan, melt 1 stick (8 Tbsp) of the butter.  Add the flour and cook over low heat for about a minute, stirring constantly.  Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and whisk until thick, about 5 minutes.  Add the nutmeg, 1/2 Tbsp salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Heat 2 Tbsp of butter and 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan (I use my huge 13″ French skillet for this).  Add the sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté until the mushrooms release some of their juices and become just browed on the edges.

Prior to assembling the lasagna, lay the dry lasagna noodles in a rimmed plate and add hot tap water.  Let the noodles soften for about 10 minutes.

To assemble, layer a ladle-full of the white sauce in a baking dish, ensuring the bottom is completely covered.  Then layer noodles, sauce, mushrooms and a heaping 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese, repeating at least twice.  Finish with a layer of noodles and more parmesan.  Dot the top with 3-4 small pieces of butter and bake for 45 minutes.  Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

Oh Yes We Did

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That is a picture of a bacon-wrapped hot dog.  Enough said.

Hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.

– Catherine

Mexican Pizza

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Last night, I ate Mexican Pizza for the first time in about twenty-five years.  I decided to make a meal I knew would be a home run for my kids after a week of very adult eating.  My mother didn’t make meals aimed at getting kids to eat; she didn’t have to, everything she made was delicious for everyone at the table.  I can’t imagine my mother ever owning a book like we all have now with surreptitious ways to get vegetables into children or creative plating tactics to “trick” kids into eating a balanced meal.  Mexican Pizza was as close as she came to tailoring something for us.  That’s what I thought when I made it last night, anyway.

But, then I ate it and remembered how good it is.  I got worried there wouldn’t be any leftovers for me to eat today standing in front of the refrigerator alone, Nigella-style.  Forget kids, I’m making this the next time we don’t have to arm wrestle those jerks to get the last piece.

We piled each piece with lettuce, tomatoes, diced avocado, jalepeños, salsa and used plain Greek yogurt as a stand-in for sour cream.  So, even for a “kid’s meal”, it wasn’t entirely unhealthy.   No sneakiness required.

– Catherine

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Mexican Pizza

1 lb of ground beef, cooked using Andra’s taco recipe

3 oz Monterey Jack Cheese, grated

3 oz Cheddar cheese, grated

1 can of refried beans (I used pinto beans that I mashed myself)

6-8 flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 400°.  Line a non-stick baking sheet with flour tortillas, overlapping as necessary, leaving about an inch overlapping the edge of the pan.  Use a spatula to spread the refried beans over the tortillas.  Spread the beef mixture and top with the cheese and bake until cheese has melted and the tortillas are crisp and starting to brown, about 15-20 minutes.  Cut into squares and pass Greek yogurt, lettuce, diced tomatoes and avocado and salsa at the table.

Thai Chicken Curry

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We eat Thai-style chicken curry often but I’ve never posted it here, mostly because it’s hard to take an appealing picture of braised meat and vegetables swimming in a brownish/reddish curry sauce.  But it’s so delicious I thought it was worth mentioning.  I’m not Thai and I’m sure my version is nowhere near authentic, but I’ve eaten curry at enough Thai restaurants to know what I’m going for:  thinly sliced pieces of chicken and vegetables in a curry sauce with an almost stew-like consistency finished with lots of fresh basil on top.  And it needs to come to the table piping hot with Jasmine rice on the side.

I make this when I have small amounts of a variety of vegetables that need to be used and I have all the necessary canned items in the pantry.   These are all from the Asian section of my grocery store and it’s by no means cosmopolitan here, so I’m sure they’re in yours too.  I prefer the red curry paste, the one on the bottom, but I keep the more mild, yellow one on hand as well.

There are two keys to great Thai curry at home.  The first is to use a lot more curry paste than the recipe on the container calls for.  I discovered this because the recipe on the container uses metric measurements and I have a strict policy of ignoring the metric system in my kitchen.  I only realized later when I did the math that I was doubling the recommended amount.

The other key to great curry is to let the mixture cook for at least 30 minutes, longer if possible.  When I first starting making curry, I had a liquid management problem.  When the chicken, vegetable and coconut milk mixture looked like it wouldn’t yield that piping hot sauce I wanted, I would add chicken stock, water or more coconut milk.  The result was either watery or overwhelmingly coconut-y.

The solution is to not panic when you see that your curry needs liquid and wait for the vegetables to release their starch and liquid into the sauce, thickening it up.  That’s why a longer cooking time and using vegetables that will release lots of water (like cauliflower or bell peppers) will get you the consistency you want.

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Last night, I used most of a head of cauliflower, three small diced potatoes, a red bell pepper and the canned bamboo shoots and straw mushrooms above.  I only used two chicken breasts and four of us ate with enough leftovers for another meal or a couple of lunches.  (I should mention that two of us are under five-years old.)

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Pretty in pictures or not, it’s delicious.

Thai Style Chicken Curry

2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp of red curry paste

1 13.5 ounce can coconut milk

1 onion, diced

1 bell pepper, roughly chopped

3 small potatoes, diced

1/2 head of cauliflower

Bamboo shoots, canned

Straw mushrooms, canned

Non-flavored cooking oil, I use canola

Heat 2 Tbsp of canola oil over medium heat.  Add curry paste, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and cook until fragrant.  Add 1/2 can of coconut milk and stir until combined and thickened with the curry paste.  Add the chicken and cook until liquid boils, then reduce heat to a simmer and add the remaining ingredients.  Cover and continue to simmer until the vegetables soften and the mixture is thickened.  Season to taste and finish with fresh basil.  Serve with Sriracha sauce and bowls of Jasmine rice.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Black Pepper and Honey Dressing

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This salad was inspired by a Tyler Florence recipe, but I made some changes based on what I needed to use and what I knew my kids would eat (more hard-boiled eggs than his recipe calls for and diced apples).  Wilting the spinach gives it a more substantial texture.  Together with the warm vinaigrette, this feels hearty and would make a great wintertime salad.  Perfect for these freezing New Jersey Spring evenings.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Black Pepper and Honey Dressing

(adapted from The Ultimate Spinach Salad with Bacon, Black Pepper and Honey, Tyler’s Ultimate Cookbook)

6 large eggs

4 bacon slices, cut crosswise into thin strips

1 onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 pounds baby spinach

1 apple, diced

3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, turn the heat off and let the eggs sit for 9 minutes. Lift the eggs out of the pan and place in a bowl with ice water; peel the eggs. Cook the bacon in a big skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat to render the fat. Scoop the bacon out and set aside onto a plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5-6 minutes, until soft. Add the honey and vinegar and keep cooking until the onion has caramelized, about 5 more minutes. Toss the spinach into the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss with tongs until the spinach is just wilted, about 30 seconds. Dump the spinach out into a bowl and add the diced apples and goat cheese. Halve the eggs and arrange on top of the salad.  Sprinkle with cooked bacon pieces.

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