38. L’s Lazy Day Lasagna

So, lasagna and I have a complex relationship. On the one hand, I am transported by ricotta, sauce, and noodles – the whole thing screams comfort and is an ideal dish for hiding layers of good veggies. However, I seem to manage to mess it up: watery sauce, too crunchy noodles, pans that don’t neatly fit all of my noodle layers.

L, one of Husband’s friends from Americorps, sent me a promising recipe for lasagna for a “lazy day”, and in my perusal of pinterest I discovered an irresistible variation: the lasagna roll-up. With the roll-up, I got the same tasty fillings but hopefully I could manage the baking stage better? The challenge appealed to me. (I have no pictures of it, sadly, but next time I make it, I’ll update the page!)

As always, I made some tweaks to L’s recipe, but the big one was trying “whole wheat” lasagna noodles giving to me by a friend last week. These noodles came out chewier than average noodles, but I appreciated that when I was spooning filling onto the noodle, rolling them up, and filling a casserole dish with them. I even put pepperonis on top!

I would do the roll-up again, and I enjoy the simplicity of L’s recipe, but I’d encourage you to tweak this the second, third, or fourth time you make it – I made it again with a spinach/alfredo/chicken filling and it was lovely! So it goes when revamping and making recipes your own.

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An example of past lasagna messes… delicious but definitely messy.

L’s Lazy Day Lasagne

 

6 ounces lasagne noodles

¼ tsp dried oregano, crushed

one 15.5 ounces can spaghetti sauce

one cup cottage cheese

one 6 ounce package sliced mozzarella cheese
cook noodles in boiling salted water following package directions; drain. Add oregano to spaghetti sauce. In greased 10x6x1.5 inche baking dish, make layers in order half each noodles, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese slices, and spaghetti sauce. Repeat. Bake in oven at 375` about 30 minutes. Let stand 10 min before serving, serves 4.

34. J’s Sausage Gravy

I don’t remember when I met Husband’s aunt J – it feels like I’ve always known her. She’s the family member who lives closest to us (though she is moving away soon!) and one of the sassiest, strongest women I’ve ever met. She works a management job, which I have very few female role models who do this; she’s also a blast to hang out with and provided us with a good bit of the furniture in our house. Clearly, a wonderful person to know.

For breakfast last weekend, I whipped up this sausage gravy – I was worried that using coconut milk would make it weird and it sort of did; the mixture was a lot thicker than I expected from my Mom’s gravy as a kid, and the tiny back-of-throat sweetness of the gravy was not normal, but the flavor over all was so good that I devoured those biscuits like they were going out of style. I was never a big gravy girl, always a little picky and dubious about sauces, but I’m coming around to this one, especially when it has so much actual sausage in it and isn’t just a roux made of drippings. I would see this as part of a main course over biscuits or toast, not just a sauce on the side. Kept me full and happy for a whole morning of gardening and cleaning.

J’s Sausage Gravy

 

 

  • 1 lb. spicy pork sausage
  • 2-3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ to 1 cup of milk
  • salt and pepper, cayenne pepper.

 

Brown sausage; when fully cooked add butter and let it melt. Add flour 1 tbsp. at a time until all sausage covered lightly. Slowly add salt, pepper, cayenne, to your liking. Cook over medium-low heat; serve over biscuits/toast; top with your favorite hot sauce.

32. C’s Banana Bread

When we were kids, my mom would make banana nut bread that she gave to the neighbors for Christmas. She also made some for us, thankfully, but I remember that while she wouldn’t necessarily stand at the fence and chat for hours with our neighbors, that one time each year she ventured over with foil-wrapped loaves and shared with them. My mother taught me how to have neighbors, which I’m now learning in my own house, in a new city, where that can sometimes be a challenge.

I really don’t know how to make friends with people just because they live next door to me, it turns out. What I do know, however, is that the outside of banana nut bread, when done right, is chewy, not really crunchy or soft but instead almost caramelized. It’s the best part of the bread, though obviously the moist interior is as good or better than any fancy-store muffin or sweet bread you can find.

From my kitchen, I can see my neighbor’s dog tearing around the square of lawn like a banshee. From my kitchen, I can see my other neighbor working on his truck, or another neighbor grilling some dinner. From here, I can take the overly ripe bananas that have somehow survived Husband’s fruit obsession and mash them with other foods, creating the pasty mixture that browns up into that enviable chewy crust. 

This particular recipe isn’t my mother’s; I found one online, substituted pecans for walnuts, and made a brown butter glaze to make sure the top was extra rich. It turned out thick and sturdy, able to hold up in a toaster, and because I had only one banana ready, I added applesauce and so it’s a two-fruit treat.

C’s Banana Bread

2 Bananas, very ripe (or one banana and one little single-serving tub of applesauce)

2 Eggs, large

1 1/3 cups All-purpose flour

1/4 tsp Baking powder

1/2 tsp Baking soda

3/4 tsp Salt, fine grain

2/3 cup Sugar

1/2 cup Pecans

5 1/3 tbsp Butter, unsalted

Combine sugar and butter; cream together. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix the baking powder, baking soda, and flour in a separate bowl. Add slowly while stirring to the butter mixture. Mash bananas and add with the pecans to the mixture; put into a loaf pan and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes.

 

If you want to brown butter, here’s a technique to use; I added sugar to mine once it was done, to make a glaze, but I just eyeballed it and would suggest you do the same. http://www.thekitchn.com/basic-techniques-how-to-brown-77018

31. E’s One-Pan Pasta

E and I were both a little puzzled by the lack of community when we each moved to a new town for graduate school. We lived in apartment buildings next to each other and met through school; Husband was far away and E was single so we became each other’s frequent companion for grocery trips and long walks and chats about everything new that was happening to us. We were around each other so often that one jokester in our program told me that I didn’t have a boyfriend, that I’d just given E a boy’s name in my phone and texted her constantly.

One of my cherished memories was that she and I would each struggle to cook for one; we had many favorite foods but no recipe is anything but cumbersome in single-serving quantities. Instead, we’d each make large batches that we’d eat on for days, but for a little while, we would also box up some of whatever we made and trade: she’d get some spicy peanut soup and I’d get shepherd’s pie; she’d get mushroom enchiladas and I’d get sweet potato-topped pizza.

After graduate school, E moved to the neighboring state, and came to the wedding as one of my bridesmaids. Her eye for color and style was essential as we prepped the barn and set out all the decorations. Husband’s grandmother couldn’t stop telling me how beautiful E was that evening – from her stylish glasses down to her strappy shoes, she had created a wonderful bridesmaid ensemble. All my girls picked their own dresses, just sticking with the theme of “some kind of green hue” – the result was eclectic perfection.

She sent me a simple recipe for one-pan pasta, which I’d never tried. I use two pans usually: the pot for boiling the pasta, and the frying pan for sizzling up some homemade tomato or alfredo sauce. This pasta looked so good and light that I made it as a side with a different recipe, Chicken Scampi, and it was truly a breeze: chopping the tomatoes, onion, and garlic takes a bit of time, but as long as the onion pieces aren’t thick, don’t worry about dicing them small: as they boiled, they became almost noodle-like and added to the bulk of the pasta. I didn’t have shredded parmesan, so I cut a sizeable hunk of garlic-and-herb goat cheese, maybe 1.5 ounces, and stirred it into the pot – the slight amount of remaining water swirled through the soft cheese and made a very light coating sauce. With the scampi, it was extra good, but I’d eat it by itself (as I’m sure E does; she’s a vegetarian and is always finding delicious, filling ways to avoid meat).

I do wish E still lived close enough for me to bring over a bowl of steaming noodles, but it’s nice that she shared the recipe with me – a long-distance form of food-sharing.

E’s One Pan Pasta

12 ounces linguine

12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

1 onion (thinly sliced)

4 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

4 cups water

 

Combine into a big pan, boil mixture, stir frequently, until water is nearly evaporated. Add shredded parmesan cheese!

27. L’s Spanish Omelette (Tortilla Española)

tortillaIn preparing for a dinner party (which has yet to happen; rescheduling was necessary), I made dinner for Husband as a chance to try a difficult trick. Any dinner that requires two frying pans used in tandem merits a trial run, I thought.

I was using a recipe-by-memory that I learned from my friend L. L and I met in college but became close while we were living abroad in Spain. She and I encouraged each other to go jogging more, to eat more chocolate, and to cry when things were difficult and lonely and new. I woke up next to her whenever the long metro ride back to my own apartment or to hers was too long after a late night talking and laughing. My last night in Spain, I slept in her apartment because I couldn’t handle thinking of heading back to the States where she wouldn’t be there. I have not had a closer friend since, to be honest, and while my new life is full of interesting and exciting elements of work and marriage, I miss her desperately.

We attempted all kinds of dishes, but because she was dating a Spaniard, she had access to some little-known secrets of Spanish cooking via his mother and grandmother that I could never have managed on my own. Tortilla, like pretty much all Spanish foods, doesn’t rely on fussy spices or exotic ingredients for its wonderful flavor; it’s just heat, quality eggs, chopped onions and potatoes, and as much olive oil as you want. The hardest part is keeping the tortilla from sticking to the pan and then also making sure that it flips well into the second pan. I do it over the sink, and don’t sweat it if things look a little messy afterwards.

I have eaten slices of firm-on-the-outside, soft-and-liquidy-on-the-inside tortilla in cafes all over Spain, but one evening with L we managed to make one turn out perfectly and we proudly served it to a friend who was visiting town and to my roommate. We were so proud, there in our little 5th-story living room, and I felt echoes of it as I flipped a tortilla in our kitchen. “What’s that?” Husband asked. I got to tell him a bit about Spain; he’s still learning about me and about my life there. Husband has never been out of the country (which I’m trying to remedy, but it may take some time) and when we were just friends I think he was in awe of the adventure that Spain was for me. Now, I think, he sees the ordinary-ness of it too: just a slice of thick, eggy goodness with enough olive oil to make you drool.

I used 6 eggs, one small onion, three small potatoes, and 3/4 cup olive oil, and it was a little too potato-ey in the pan I was using. My biggest advice is to slice the potatoes thin-thin and to cook them on their own for quite a while before you put the eggs in; while this may not be traditional, by cooking them through before I added the eggs I got the onion flavor deep in the potatoes and ensured against any crunchy starchy spots. If you’ve made tortilla, feel free to use the comments to share your tricks and tips. Never mind me while I scarf down some more.

26. The H’s Chicken Pot Pie

The whole H family have been in and out of my life since I met Husband. They are his aunt, uncle, and cousins, and they are fun – always with a smile, a story about recent travels, a kind word. I took a few meetings to really get to know them because I always saw them during a huge family gathering where I would be introduced to many people, often for the second or third time: by the time they were attending our wedding, though, we had the pleasure of speaking various times, and I knew they were passionate folks with lots of interests and plenty of travel stories to tell. I have to admit though, I was grateful for how homey the pot pie was, not a flight to an exciting new place but instead a walk through memories instead.

 

The process of making this pot pie was simple, as much comfort food is, but it makes a lot of food and it heats up so nicely the next day. The best part of fresh out of the oven is definitely the crust, which is out of a box and I don’t begrudge it that, because I’ve messed up a decent amount of pie crusts in my time. The combination of crisp and creamy is excellent and I am also comforted by the piles of veggies that go into this pie (alongside the creamy potatoes and milk).

 

I’ve been overstretching myself quite a bit lately, telling myself I’m never doing quite enough. Pot pie tells me that I’m fine, and that even if I need to clean some things while it is in the oven, and probably missed an email or a text message while I was stirring the mixture together, but lately, the prospect of getting to cook, especially soothing processes like making a pie, bring me to a place of not caring quite so much about all the things I should be doing. Providing food, at least, seems to be enough for a little while.

The H’s favorite easy Chicken Pot Pie

about 2 cups of cooked cubed chicken (occasionally check with can of chicken!) 2 cans cream of potato soup 1 bag frozen mixed vegetable (corn green beans carrots and peas) about 1 soup can of milk (mixture should be of moist consistency) 1 tsp thyme (important spices!) also pepper to taste.

Roll out Pillsbury pie crust. Oven 400 degrees; mix above and put in pie. Bake 50-65 minutes. Delicious.

25. W and R’s Turtle Pumpkin Pie

IMG_3898      I write this from my kitchen table on yet another afternoon – it is finally actually warm outside – 70 degrees! – and my friend A, of lentil soup fame, is visiting my home. I’ve been excited to have her for quite a while, and now she’s seen where I live, and like with all visiting friends from past times, I feel a bit nostalgic for the lives we have had in the past, the ones that had us living closer to each other.

This weekend, we returned to some recipes: I made a nice light cucumber/tomato/quinoa salad and we put together some of that delicious taco soup, the leftovers of which I’m scarfing in between typing words. This morning, we made bacon and she came downstairs to eat it and enjoy the morning with us. Food has been a major part of the whole visit, from a visit to our favorite local restaurant upon her arrival, to us dallying in the grocery store yesterday making sure to get food that fits her needs with regards to allergies and intolerances.

In college, I really didn’t care about food; even that far back, A has paid more attention to food than I have. She had to, because so many foods made her feel bad; now that I’m getting into the topic, I realize how much she already knew – she has worked on farms, and she has read labels on food, and just generally been paying attention to the world in ways I never have before. It took marriage, and specifically wanting to be an active part of choosing household nutrition, before I really paid attention. I ate junk food, processed foods, occasional vegetables as a kind of penance – I rarely cooked, enjoyed eating out extensively, and didn’t regulate what I ate except based on hunger and what made me happy.

When I am thinking about those years, there are a few food memories, but many of them are from later, as I became more of a cook. Still, it is good to have A in town to make me thoughtful about things.

I am finally making headway on the delicious stack of dessert recipes I’ve been trying to attack lately for the blog. I wanted to make something that was milk-free, given that A was visiting, and I had ingredients to make a pie that had been recommended to me by Great-Aunt B and Great-Uncle W. I decided I’d make a substitution – 1 cup of watered yogurt instead of 1 cup milk – since A can have yogurt and the pie would work well for her otherwise.

The main gist of the pie is this: pumpkin mixed with vanilla pudding. This is a brilliant idea, because vanilla pudding is a perfectly adequate treat for dessert, and pumpkin is a vegetable that actually makes the pudding taste better. With spices mixed in, all I had to do was put some caramel from J and T and pecans in the bottom of the graham cracker crust, and more caramel and more pecans on top of the fluffy pumpkin mix. Then an hour in the fridge, and you will have a delicious, soft, veggie-full pie that still is substantially sweet.

My kind and lovely great aunt and uncle gave me this recipe even though they weren’t able to travel to the wedding, and it makes me wistful for eating pie at their house in the South, telling stories late into the night the few times we got to visit them as children. It seems fitting to have a visitor now to share stories with.

Turtle Pumpkin Pie – no baking!

1/2 cup and 2 tbs. caramel ice cream topping

1 graham cracker crust

1/2 cup and 2 tbs. pecan pieces

1 cup cold milk

2 packages (3.4 oz) vanilla instant pudding mix

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 tub (8 oz.) cool whip thawed and divided.

Pour 1/4 cup caramel topping into crust and sprinkle with pecans. Beat milk, pudding mix, pumpkin, and spices with whisk until blended. Spread into crust. Refrigerate 1 hour – top with remaining cool whip and nuts. Then drizzle caramel topping over top.

24. A’s Soldier Kisses Cookies

My great grandmother is rather direct; she is originally from Finland and spent years as a missionary before marrying my great grandfather. I remember my childhood visits to her as being punctuated by many desserts and at odd hours: one morning, my mother awoke to find her own grandmother and her two children gleefully eating bowls of ice cream for breakfast with brownies on the side.

When I called her to talk about some changes in wedding plans, she told me that there was a word in Finnish that meant determination but was literally translated as “willing to walk through snow.” She said matter-of-factly, “That is what you need for a marriage to work.” I thought about the piles of snow I see in the winter and how uninterested I usually am in soldiering out; this seemed a slightly unforgiving view of marriage. Still, I was glad to have someone be a realist instead of asking variations of the question “Are you sooooo happy?” It seems important to get that real-world advice, the need for determination, before a wedding. It feels like the wedding is less of a fairy tale and more my actual life.

She gave me a recipe for one of the many sweets we ate as children, a fluffy pecan merengue cookie that she called “Soldier’s Kisses.” I thought they weren’t going to set up well because I used one egg white and it just seemed a bit soupy, but when they came out of the oven, they were rich and sweet, chewy in the middle and crisped on the outside, and perfect as a part of breakfasts in honor of all the time we spent being unhealthy as children.

I would probably modify them to include a second egg white, just to have more umph to the merengue, but the below recipe worked.

A’s Soldier Kisses

1 egg white
1 cup brown (light) sugar
2 cups pecan pieces
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp vanilla.
Beat egg white and sugar; add other ingredients slowly while mixing. Drop in spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the edges are done. (I’ve also seen online that some folks just preheat the oven and then leave the cookies overnight in the oven to harden; experiment and see what you get both ways!)

22. S’s Egg-in-a-basket

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S and I spent 3 cold, shivery days in Sweden together almost five years ago; I had been lonely and searching for purpose in Spain where I was teaching, and she had been adjusting to a return to school in a country where she didn’t speak the language. S’s life had, like mine, gone back to essentials: while I had been spending long afternoons in the kitchen cooking in northern Madrid, she’d been discovering what the cheapest and most nutritious methods for eating in Sweden would be – until she received a scholarship, she was eating food bought through exchanged US dollars, which resulted in high prices.

What she’d found, though, became one of my favorite breakfasts for the years to come. The ingredients were simple: a couple of pats of butter, two pieces of bread, two eggs, and the salt, pepper, or garlic that most suits you. Like a child’s breakfast, egg-in-a-basket provides a good melding of homey flavors but also is rather energetically rich: fats from the yolk and butter, whole grains if you buy whole wheat bread, and protein from the rest of the egg. It needs little butter, mostly there just to create a crusty rim around the eggs, because soft-cooked eggs create their own sauce, perfect to be mopped off the plate with the leftover “hole” of toast that gets thrown in the pan with the egg-in-a-baskets. It was inexpensive and simple and easy to eat, and sitting there in S’s wide-open single-room home, I felt peaceful about food, and the many other things that were uncertain in my life right then.

I have attempted this dish many times since, and have used it to thrill Husband when I serve it alongside a pile of bacon, but this weekend was the first time I’ve ever made it with bread I made myself. Instead of just salt, pepper, and garlic, I added the same italian-herb blend that I’d used in the bread itself, and to my great happiness, the whole thing turned out as perfectly browned as they can get (under or overdone are the main downsides of this breakfast).

With a glass of orange juice, and possible those delicious bits of bacon, this is perhaps my favorite way to start a weekend day.

S’s Egg in a Basket
1. Cut a hole in the middle of two pieces of whole-wheat bread, careful to not sever the outer rim.
2. melt butter in a frying pan and coat both sides of each piece of bread and each cut-out of bread.
3. When the pan is nice and hot, crack an egg into the center of each piece of bread, and let sizzle. When the bottom is opaque, loosen the eggs to make sure they don’t stick as they cook through; season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste.
4. Flip eggs and season the second side, loosening the eggs after they cook.
5. Remove from heat before the egg yolks are completely cooked through; eat hot with other breakfast delicacies. 🙂IMG_3871

Roasted Garlic and Tomato Farro!

I have had a bag of farro in my cupboard for a long time – it’s an “ancient grain” that lives in the same aisle of the grocery store as the rice and quinoa. It has a lot of fiber and protein, and was a favorite of my grad school buddy M, who was vegetarian and always looking for something hearty to supplement his diet. I made one farro salad for a party, but I still have community-garden garlic and the last dregs of the tomato plants, so I thought I’d try this out. I got inspired by this recipe I found on Pinterest, which seemed to mix some of my favorite earthiest flavors and obviously, this blog has been all tomatoes all the time lately.

The key, I realized, was that if my tomatoes were already swimming in water (last canned batch of tomatoes had a lot of excess liquid), I might as well prepare the farro in the tomato juices, rather than separately in water. It worked like a charm – I prepared the farro in the juices according to the directions on the farro package, and soon I had big, thick kernels that looked a bit like that cereal “sugar smacks” if you remember it from your childhood. My grandfather ate it all the time, which was definitely not as healthy as eating farro but does make me endeared to the idea.

In the end, just a little garlic and salt were all the chewy kernels and various-sized tomatoes needed. I used it alongside a shrimp scampi I’ll post later, but it didn’t need oil or a lot of fancy spicing – the combination of home canned tomatoes and the nuttiness of the farro were enough to be one of those dishes that are simple without being bland. Not to mention, surprisingly filling: I didn’t have to layer on the scampi sauce to fill like I was getting a whole meal when I used this as a base instead of pasta.